TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I EVERYBODY'S FAVORITE SUBJECT............... 2
CHAPTER II WHO WE ARE/WHO WE TEACH: BUILDING
EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM RELATIONSHIPS.......... 11
CHAPTER III ONCE AROUND THE RACE COURSE: DEVELOPING
EFFECTIVE SOCIAL SCIENCES CURRICULUM....... 19
CHAPTER IV SHTICK AND TRICKS: THE EASY ROAD TO
TEACHING STARDOM (AND TO CREATING AN
EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT)........... 35
CHAPTER V GLUING STUDENTS TO THEIR SEATS AND OTHER
FUN SOCIAL SCIENCE GAMES AND ACTIVITIES.... 67
CHAPTER VI CLASSROOMS FULL OF STARS: THEATER GAMES
IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES.....................101
CHAPTER VII HERODOTUS HAD IT RIGHT: FROM LECTURER TO
CHAPTER VIII HOW TO GET FROM CHICAGO TO NEW YORK WITHOUT
GOING THROUGH SAN FRANCISCO: LEADING GOOD
........................................ . 140
CHAPTER IX HOMEWORK, TESTS, PAPERS, AND OTHER DIRTY
TRICKS TO PLAY ON YOUR STUDENTS............150
CHAPTER X SHUT DOWN SYSTEM IMMEDIATELY AND REBOOT:
INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY IN THE SOCIAL
CHAPTER XI A MADNESS IN THEIR METHODS: NEW TRENDS IN
APPENDIX YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, MMM,
MMM, MMM, MMM, MMM... GET A WHAT???? . . . 197
EVERYBODY'S FAVORITE SUBJECT!
When I teach my introductory history classes, I start
out with an energetic sales pitch:
Welcome to the most wonderful, most interesting,
most exciting, and most important course offered at
Northern State University. I know every one of you is
thrilled to be here today. And why are you thrilled to
be here? Because history, I am sure, is for every one
of you your very favorite subject.
By the time I finish my first three sentences, most of
the students are laughing. Why? Because, for many of them,
history is not only not their favorite subject, but one of
the subjects they liked least in high school--ranking a
little below detention, though perhaps a little above math.
There are good reasons for this. Many students
experience in high school leads them to believe that history
is nothing more than a boring combination of dull lectures,
duller reading assignments, and meaningless work sheets. For
some of them, the only thing they learned in their high
school history classes was to hate history.
Some of my students, on the other hand, had a very
different experience in high school. They had perhaps the
kind of history teacher who told them story after story,
stories about Napoleon, George Washington, Joan of Arc,
Savanarola, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, or any of the
hundreds and thousands of fascinating figures of history.
The students who were fortunate enough to have a teacher like
this usually remember much of what they were told years
later, and most of them come into my class already liking
Most of you who read this book probably had at least one
or two teachers who made social studies interesting and
exciting. You are probably already convinced that history
and social science courses are important. But can we
convince others, particularly our students, that the classes
we teach are worth the effort? I think that we can, that we
can convince them that what we teach really is the most
wonderful, most interesting, most exciting, and most
important of all subjects, and that they truly ought to like
What do we have to offer students? What reasons can we
give them for liking history? First of all, our subject is
inherently interesting. History includes everything that has
happened for the past five thousand years. Certainly with
five thousand years of material to draw on, it should be easy
to come up with plenty of fascinating things to talk about!
Social science (or social studies) is obviously even broader
in scope. It includes virtually everything that has to do
with mankind--not only the "proper" study of man, but the
most interesting as well.
Another reason for liking history is that it improves
one's sense of humor. Consider for instance the following
story, a story I often tell my students on the first day of
The people of ancient Sumer had to worry constantly
about invasions. To protect themselves, they built huge
walls around their cities. The walls were not only a
source of protection, but a source of pride to the
people of the city. One of the Sumerian kings, the King
of Uruk, decided that his city needed a new and better
wall. He got the best architects available, the best
building materials available, the best craftsman
available, and began construction of the most
magnificent wall ever built around a city state. The
project took years, but at last it was almost complete.
The people of Uruk decided to hold a great ceremony to
dedicate their new wall, and as a special honor, they
decided to ask the King himself to put the last brick in
The wall dedication was a magnificent ceremony.
Thousands of people were there: priests, nobles, common
people, ambassadors from neighboring city states--all
wanted to be a part of the great celebration. Finally,
there came the great moment. The King advanced,
carrying the last brick. But when he got to the place
the brick was supposed to go, he discovered it wouldn't
fit. He turned it upside down. It still wouldn't fit.
He turned it sideways. It still wouldn't fit. He
tried shoving it as hard as he could. It still wouldn't
fit. Finally, he got so mad, he took the brick, threw
it over the wall into the river, and the brick sank.
Few of my students think that story very funny. I
promise them, however, that it really is a funny story, and
that if they stick with my history class long enough, they'll
understand why that story is so hilarious. And, believe it
or not, they eventually do see why that story is funny--
though perhaps you don t. In any case, if history can make
us laugh, that's reason enough for liking the subject.
The most important reason for liking history, however,
is the one given by Francis Bacon: history makes us wise.
That's a pretty strong statement, though I think that it is
true. The study of history does make us wise--or at least
In order to understand this, it's useful to go back to
the beginning of the discipline, to the great father of
history, Herodotus. Herodotus was the first to use the word
history as we use it today. He borrowed a legal term,
historia, which simply meant an inquiry or an investigation.
Herodotus' History is an investigation of a question
that must have puzzled many Greeks of his time: how had the
Greeks been able to defeat the Persians during the Persian
War? The Persians were wealthy. They controlled the largest
empire the world had ever seen. The Greeks were poor and
disunited, usually fighting among themselves. The Persian
army and navy were many times larger than anything the Greeks
could put together. The Persians had defeated nations
seemingly much more powerful than the Greeks, including the
Egyptians, the Lydians, and the Chaldaeans. Yet when the
Persians fought against Greece, the Greeks won--not just
once, but again and again, at Marathon, at Salamis, at
Plataea, and at Mycale. How had this happened?
Herodotus realized that the answer was a complex one,
and that, in order to come up with the answer, one had to
find out a great many things about both the Greeks and the
Persians. One needed to know about the political systems of
the people involved, about their religious and social
institutions, and about the geography of each region. Thus
in trying to answer his question about the Persian War,
Herodotus ended up drawing on all the social sciences, and he
might well be called not just the father of history, but the
father of cultural anthropology, political science, and
geography as well. Along the way, Herodotus collected some
fascinating stories, among them the story of the ring of
Polycrates was the ruler of Samos, an Aegean
island. He was wealthy, powerful, healthy--everything
seemed to go his way. His friends were somewhat worried
by this, figuring that the jealous gods would never
allow any human being such a streak of unbroken good
fortune. Polycrates too began to worry, and so on the
advice of his friends, he decided to contrive a
misfortune on his own lest the gods do something much
worse to him. What he decided to do was to "lose" his
most prized possession, a magnificent ring, the symbol
of his authority. He took the ring down to the sea and
heaved it as far as he could into the waves. He was
sorry to lose the ring of course, but he figured he
could now enjoy the rest of his good fortune without
A short while later, a fisherman casting his nets
off the coast of Samos caught a magnificent fish. On
reaching shore, he rushed right to the palace, convinced
that such a fine fish was fit only for a man like
Polycrates. The cook, seeing the magnificent fish,
dropped his original supper plans and cooked up the fish
for Polycrates. The servant brought the fish in to
Polycrates on a gold platter. It looked and smelled
delicious, but as Polycrates cut into it with his knife,
he felt something hard inside. You know what it was, of
course. A brick.
Not funny? Maybe not, and even with Herodotus' real
ending to the story (Polycrates' ring inside the fish) it
might not seem to have much relevance to history. Today's
professional historians are usually critical of Herodotus'
use of such stories. But whether or not they accord with
actual historical fact, Herodotus' stories get to the essence
of what history and social studies is about: human beings
confronted with forces beyond their control and attempting to
deal with those forces as best they can.
Herodotus saw clearly what the purpose of history and
the social sciences truly is: not just the gathering of
immense amounts of data, but an attempt to answer the great
questions of life: What kind of government is best? Why do
nations go to war? Why is the relationship between men and
women what it is? What causes poverty and wealth? And the
biggest of all questions: why are we here?
In one of the final scenes of King Lear, Lear himself
stands naked in the middle of a storm, raging against the
elements. He asks an important question: "Is man no more
than this? Consider him well."
Is man no more than a naked beast raging against forces
beyond his control? Or is he something more? We can hardly
claim to have considered this question well without a solid
foundation in the disciplines that study man and society, the
social sciences. If we do address these questions in our
classes, if we do show our students that social studies
addresses some of the biggest questions in life, we have gone
a long way toward making our discipline what it should be,
everybody's favorite subject.
WHO WE ARE/WHO WE TEACH:
BUILDING EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM RELATIONSHIPS
If you ask any group of teachers who the worst teachers
they ever had were, the usual answer is their professional
education teachers. Nearly everyone complains that they
didn't get much out of their professional education classes.
While the people who quote the line "Those who can't do,
teach, and those who can't teach, teach teachers," seem to be
jesting, often enough they really mean it.1
Why is it that professional education teachers so seldom
do a good job? It is not necessarily (and not even usually)
because they are bad teachers. Some of them are even
excellent teachers--when teaching anything other than
education classes. Unfortunately, the professional education
teacher is trying to teach something that is difficult, if
not impossible, to teach by traditional teaching methods,
methods that work perfectly well for other subjects.
Why is this? The reason becomes apparent as soon as one
attempts to classify "teaching" as a learned skill.
Education teachers rightly say that there are three primary
The full current version is, "Those who can't do, teach;
those who can't teach, teach teachers; those who can't teach
teachers write books about teaching teachers; those who can't
write books about teaching teachers go into administration."
Administration, here I come!
aspects of learned activity: the cognitive, the affective,
and the psychomotor.
What kind of a skill is teaching? Cognitive? Yes, but
not in the way one expects. A teacher can know everything
there is to know about his subject and still be a failure as
a teacher. Being an expert in your field is no guarantee you
will be able to teach others.
Is teaching affective then? Again, the answer is yes,
but not in the way one expects. One can genuinely love one's
students and one's subject and still not be an effective
teacher. Is teaching a psychomotor skill? Certainly
there are psychomotor skills useful to teaching, but one
could perfect every psychomotor skill imaginable and still
not be a good teacher.
Good teaching is based, not on any easily taught
cognitive, affective, or psychomotor skills, but on one's
ability to create appropriate relationships between oneself
and one's students. Unfortunately, while good teachers are
always able to build these kind of relationships in their own
classes, it is all but impossible for them to teach others
how to do so. The reason for this is that we all relate to
people differently. A good teacher has always found a way of
creating relationships that works for him or her, but that
method won't necessarily work for anyone else.
Making the matter especially tricky is the fact that we
don't naturally get along well with everyone. Most of us in
high school identified with one particular type of student,
choosing our friends mostly from the group whose values and
interests were most like our own. Some of us were cowboys,
others jocks; some of us were motor heads, others druggies;
some of us were preppies, others Jesus freaks. For most of
us, there was at least one other type of student that we
really disliked--maybe the jocks, maybe the druggies, maybe
the Jesus freaks. The bad news is that (though the names may
have changed) all of these types are still around, and, if
you are going to be a successful teacher, you are often going
to have to be able to build good relationships with the kind
of people you might naturally dislike.
Fortunately, there are some basic tricks to establishing
good relationships that work for most teachers with most
types of students most of the time. One thing that usually
works is humor. Generally, teachers who make their students
laugh have little difficulty gaining their attention and
Humor is especially important when it comes to diffusing
potential conflicts. Discipline mixed with humor (gentle
humor!) is especially effective. In his film "Molder of
Dreams," former national teacher of the year Guy Doud notices
a student with a big wad of chewing tobacco in his mouth
entering the classroom. Doud stops him with the advice, "If
that's your breakfast, you better swallow it before you come
into class." Few of us can improvise lines like this, but we
don't have to. Most discipline situations can be
anticipated, and, with a bit of thought, one can prepare
exactly the right kind of lines for many of the problems you
are going to confront.
Another key technique often used by teachers who are
successful in establishing good relationships is the ability
to share themselves, particularly to share their struggles
and weaknesses. Often we try to hide our weaknesses from our
students, thinking (perhaps) that they will lose all respect
for us if they see us making a mistake. The opposite is
often the case: students relate better to teachers who they
can see have struggled with some of the same problems that
confront them. Admitting that one finds certain texts or
historical events hard to explain or understand, and
admitting one doesn't know the answers to questions, or
admitting that one has made a mistake usually strengthens a
teachers rapport with students rather than the reverse. They
don't have to think we know everything!
Probably the most important step in establishing good
relationships with our students is to demonstrate to them
that we truly care about them as individuals. The admonition
that "students must know how much you care before they care
how much you know" may have become trite, but it is usually
Part of the trick here is that, to be effective in the
classroom, teachers must not only care about their students,
but also demonstrate their concern. This is fairly easily
done. Learn the names of your students as quickly as
possible. Find out a little about their families. Ask them
questions about things important to them--and the next time
you talk to them show them you really care by asking follow
up questions about things they talked to you about before.
We also demonstrate our genuine concern for students by
tying the material we present in class to things they are
interested in already, and by designing our courses so that
they help meet fundamental needs in students' lives. What
kinds of things do junior/senior high school students think
about and care about? What kinds of things do they need, or
at least think they need? A partial list might include the
1. Establishing/maintaining a loving relationship with a
member of the opposite sex.
2. Finding some way to deal with pain in their lives.
3. Establishing independence/personal autonomy.
4. Gaining the approval of their peers.
5. Gaining the approval of a respected adult.
6. Finding a cheap cure for acne.
Most students care about deeper issues as well. They
are concerned about the economic and political situation of
our country. They worry about crime, about violence, and the
breakdown of families. Many are beginning to reject the
religious training of their earlier days, and are eager to
explore alternative religious traditions.
What educational discipline deals with these kinds of
concerns the most? Algebra? Chemistry? Band? P.E.?
Obviously, none of the above. It is clearly the social
sciences that have the most to do with subjects students care
about most. It is to political science, sociology,
psychology, anthropology, and (above all) history that one
must turn if one wants answers to the deepest questions one
might ask about life.
Social science teachers are often embarrassed by
questions about the purpose of their discipline and are
somewhat defensive in response to questions about why our
classes should be part of the curriculum. It seems to some
that social sciences are simply a frill area that might
easily be cut out without major damage to the educational
system. Unfortunately, this is the attitude of many
administrators and school board members who, from their
hiring practices, clearly indicate their belief that having a
winning football team is far more important than a quality
social sciences program.
It should be clear, however, that in some ways our
discipline is the most important, the one discipline that
addresses most of the major concerns of our students
directly, the one discipline that is primarily concerned
about human relationships, justice, economics, and with the
meaning and purpose of life. This gives us a tremendous
advantage in making our material interesting to students.
All we need to do is to take issues students already care
deeply about, use these concerns as a springboard to the
social sciences topic we are presenting, and finally to jump
back from our topic to the problems that confront our
students in their own lives.
In the 60's and 70's, teachers were constantly told that
we had to make our teaching relevant, that students had to
see how the material they were studying applied to their
"real" lives. True enough: we do need to make our teaching
relevant. Further, as we make our material relevant, we
make ourselves relevant, the kind of teachers that can have a
lasting, positive influence on our students.
ONCE AROUND THE RACE COURSE:
DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE SOCIAL SCIENCES CURRICULUM
Probably some of those reading this book are a little
frustrated by now. For a book that promised to be practical,
there has been far too much theory and not enough real
training on how to teach. Please be patient! Most methods
texts are far worse--the whole book is theory. Further,
there is a reason for this. It really is necessary to
clarify some basic theoretical questions before moving on to
what one actually does in the classroom, and though I would
much rather move ahead to lectures, discussions, and fun
classroom activities, it is necessary first to discuss one
more theoretical area, curriculum development.
Curriculum is a fancy sounding word, the kind of word
often utilized by educators (though not used by teachers, who
know better).2 The word curriculum come from the Latin
currus (chariot). A "curriculum" was a small chariot, most
often a racing chariot. In time, the Romans came to use the
word for the race course in general rather than the chariots
that circled it. Planning curriculum, then, is to lay out a
race course--and there is hardly a more appropriate word to
What's the difference between an educator and a teacher?
Generally, an educator focuses on the process, a teacher focuses
describe what we actually end up doing in deciding what we
are going to teach our students.
Curriculum in its more general sense includes everything
your students study throught the course of their school
years, including English and math as well as history and the
social sciences. Usually, beginning classroom teachers do
not have a chance to do much about the overall curriculum of
a school or district. But you usually do have to determine
the curriculum for each class you teach, to set up the small
segment of the race course in your charge.
Ideally, the state or the district should give you
curriculum guidelines for each class you teach. These
guidelines should include both the overall goals your
state/district has for the students in your class as well as
specific guidelines for course content that will enable your
students to reach these goals.
At one time, state and district curriculum guides were
extremely useful in helping an instructor plan his/her
course. Notice the clearly stated objectives and content
guides contained in a South Dakota curriculum guide of twenty
years ago (pages 27-28). Such a guide was exceedingly
helpful to the teacher trying to plan a course for the coming
Today's curriculum guides are much less helpful.
Typical is the chart on page 29, taken from one of the most
recent South Dakota curriculum guides. Although objectives
and course content are still included in the guide, the
format of the guide makes it all but useless to the classroom
teacher.3 As a result, teachers must develop their own
curriculum for every class they teach.
Now there is a very easy way to do this. Get a good
textbook for your course with good supplementary materials
(e.g. Perry's History of the World), turn to the table of
contents--and there it is! Your curriculum for the coming
year! Complete with supplementary materials, work sheets,
multiple guess exams, overheads, and even computerized
It's exceedingly tempting to take this route in
designing and teaching your courses. Let the professional
textbook publishers design your course for you. Let them put
together the exams and work sheets. Let them come up with
supplementary materials. After all, they have the time and
Help is on the way, however. The Center for Civic
Education s National Standards for Civics and Government is an
excellent guide to the kind of things that ought to be taught in
K-12 government classes. These standards are available by
writing to the Center for Civic Education, 5146 Douglas Fir Road,
Calabasas, CA 91302-1467. Current price for a single copy is
$12.00. It's also worth taking a look at the much-critized
National Standards for History, available through the National
Center for History in the Schools, University of California, Los
Angeles, 10880 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 761, Los Angeles, CA 90024-
resources you don't. They can test the effectiveness of
their materials on thousands of students. They can get
dozens of professional historians to check their materials
for accuracy. Surely they can do a better job deciding what
your students ought to be doing than you!
Except that they can't. Any teacher who does nothing
but rely on the materials produced by a textbook company
turns their "race course" into a marathon of boredom. Why?
Why do courses taught "by the book" end up so deadly dull?
Why can't even the best supplementary materials do much to
enliven such classes?
There are two obvious reasons for the failure of
textbook-centered curriculum. One is that, as noted in
chapter two, teaching depends on establishing appropriate
relationships with one's students. Textbook companies can do
nothing at all to help you establish those kinds of
relationships. Further, depending on the textbook often
actually makes it harder to establish the kind of
relationships that really work. The textbook, rather than
the teacher, soon becomes the authority and source of
knowledge in the classroom--an exceedingly bad thing for true
The second reason textbook-centered curriculum fails is
that it puts the cart before the horse. Dependence on work
sheets and multiple choice exams ends up making your students
focus primarily on isolated facts rather than larger themes.
Now the learning of facts is vital to the study of
history and the social sciences, and any good teacher helps
their students master a great deal of factual information.
But it does no good at all to have students master what to
them are random, unrelated, and irrelevant bits of
Before students are set to the task of learning great
quantities of information, it is important they know why the
facts they learn are important. Teachers must give them
clear goals for the class, or, perhaps better, a set of
particular questions they are trying to answer.
Consider the following lines:
1. And imagine what it did to the dishes.
2. Only one, but the bulb has to want to change.
3. So his wife had him cremated.
4. Because when ice cream melts, it doesn't leave
None of those lines is at all interesting. But attach
each line to an appropriate set-up:
1. Primitive women didn't have it so good. They
had to wash by going to the river and beating
things on a rock. It was hard work. And imagine
what it did to the dishes!
2. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a
light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has got
to want to change.
3. A man had no life insurance, but he did have
fire insurance. So his wife had him cremated.
4. What's the difference between an orange?
Because when ice cream melts it doesn t leave any
Well, they're still not very funny, but at least the
lines may draw a chuckle or two. The point is that even the
funniest punch line fails unless put in proper context.
Likewise, the most important historical facts are
meaningless unless put in the context of larger human
questions. Good social science/history teachers start, then,
not with the textbook, but with some great overall theme (or
themes) for each course they teach.
Now the better textbook companies do suggest appropriate
themes in their supplemental materials. However, for best
results, it is better to come up with your own themes,
ideas/goals that will make the course truly your own.
As an example, I discuss briefly below the themes for
one of the large survey classes I teach at Northern, History
of Civilization I (World Civilization to 1600).
This class covers the most important trends in human
civilization from the Sumerians and Egyptians through the
Reformation, a period of over 4500 years! As a unifying
theme, I borrow Henry Bamford Parke's suggestion that, in
order to survive, a society must provide three things to its
members: physical security, ethical guidance, and emotional
fulfillment. I try to make sure that my students know how
each society we discuss provided these three essentials.
My chief emphasis in the course is on ethics. I am
concerned with the breakdown of morality in our own society:
the increase in violent crime, the loss of any sense of
economic justice, unprecedented levels of dishonesty at every
level, the horrible treatment of women, and, especially, the
break-up of the family. I am also concerned about the
apparent inability of our religious, political, and
educational institutions to deal with these problems. Most,
maybe all, of my students share these concerns, and because
of this, they are at least somewhat interested as we examine
societies that faced similar problems.
Once I had determined the general theme for the course,
it was easy to decide on sub-themes for each of the
individual civilizations discussed and to decide what
specific figures and events were most worth emphasizing.
Coming up with questions for the exam was also easy: the sub-
themes for the individual civilizations became the exam
Once you have established your goals and decided what
topics you are going to cover, then it's time to look at the
various teaching materials available. You are likely to find
that some of the supplements, audio-visual materials, and
even the work sheets of the textbook companies are worth
using. But you'll also know when they're inappropriate and
when it's better to use material of your own.
Finally, it's time to arrange the material you want to
cover into some sort of a schedule, to decide how much time
each topic gets and when you are to address each topic.
There are several different ways of going about this, but I
would suggest the following steps:
1. Get a copy of the school calendar for the academic
2. List each instructional date available for your class
in order both by date and day of the week.
3. Divide your material for the semester (or quarter)
into several "units," each unit centering around some
important theme or topic.
4. Decide how much time to spend on each unit.4
It's aesthetically appealing to break up the semester into
roughly equal blocks of time for each unit: three weeks on a
subject, then a test; three weeks on another subject, then a
test; three weeks on another subject, then a test. There's no
real reason, however, not to include units of very different
5. Write unit plans for each unit, stating clearly your
goals for the unit and listing the activities that will
help you reach those goals.
6. List the topics, activities and assignments for each
day of the unit on your schedule.
At Northern, we prefer that our education students state
both their unit plan goals and their daily lesson plan goals
in terms of student outcomes.5 All this means is that you
introduce your goal with the words, "The students will be
able to. . ." (conveniently abbreviated by the clever
acronym TSWBAT. Some examples:
1. TSWBAT identify at least three causes of the American
2. TSWBAT explain the difference between primary and
3. TSWBAT locate on a map the important rivers of India.
4. TSWBAT supply the date of six major civil war
5. TSWBAT name the most important industries of South
6. TSWBAT listen to a full fifty minutes of lecture
without falling asleep.
The word "outcomes" is an educationese monstrosity, but we
may be stuck with it for a while. Any ideas for something
7. TSWBAT use TSWBAT terminology in writing their own
I wasn't impressed with the TSWBAT format when I was
first introduced to it, but it does have its uses. First of
all, it makes it really clear when our goals are trivial. Do
we really care if our students know the exact dates of
battles? Or are we just wasting their time and ours?
Secondly, it does tend to make us focus a bit more on our
students themselves and what they are supposed to be getting
out of our classes.
When setting student goals, especially unit goals, don't
forget the general skills our students should be learning in
social science: the ability to read charts, graphs, and maps;
the ability to read and summarize information; the ability to
identify strengths and weaknesses in an author's argument;
the ability to take information gathered by others and mold
it into an original creation of one's own.
Now all of this (deciding on the purpose of your course,
coming up with your own themes, choosing material to fit
these themes, and writing unit plans and daily lesson plans)
may seem like a lot of work. It is! But it's well worth the
time spent. Taking the time to plan and make your course
truly your own will make your classes both more interesting
and more rewarding for you and your students.
Remember also that work done well is worth saving and
using again. Create for yourself an organized system where
you can easily find materials when you want to use them and
you'll save yourself a great deal of time and trouble.
Another way to avoid trouble is to anticipate
emergencies. It is particularly important to have a set of
emergency lesson plans ready for a substitute teacher in case
you have to miss class. It's best, of course, when the
substitute can simply carry out your scheduled plan for that
day, but sometimes (e.g. when starting a new unit) this
doesn't work. Please don't leave the substitute "busy work"
material. "Show a film" is not generally a good lesson plan
for a substitute either. The students generally know when
the material they are given isn't important, and they give
the substitute a hard time--and you'll have headaches to deal
with when you get back.
One last bit of planning advice. It's important to take
into consideration the physical arrangement of the classroom
when preparing activities. Some activities work best with
traditional rows of desks; others need a different
arrangement. For some activities, you may need a different
type of facility all together. Providing and maintaining an
effective environment for the activities you choose is one of
the most important parts of planning.
Even with the best of planning, it's hard to escape the
feeling that you and your students are running a race. But
with a well planned curriculum, you at least end up racing in
the right direction and have a reasonable chance of reaching
the finish line.
Objectives goes here.
New curriculum here.
SHTICK AND TRICKS: THE EASY ROAD TO TEACHING STARDOM
(AND TO CREATING AN EFFECTIVE CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT)
During my freshman year of college, I fell in love with
the theater. I worked on more than twenty different
theatrical productions as a stage hand or actor, often
working on two or three productions at the same time. It was
a lot of work, but I enjoyed every minute of every
performance--except, of course, for Saturday matinees.
Actors dread Saturday matinees. For some reason, the
Saturday matinee audience tends to be cold and unresponsive.
Plenty of people show up, but they don't laugh at the jokes,
applaud feebly if at all, and generally portray the attitude,
"We are not amused."
It is extremely uncomfortable to be on stage in front of
an audience that does not respond. As a result, most actors
develop some techniques for waking up the audience,
techniques that fit into the general category of shtick and
Shtick and tricks are devices an actor carries with him
from play to play. Often, they have very little to do with
the script. Because of this, "pure" actors and directors
tend to frown on their use, and it's probably not appropriate
(and certainly not necessary) to use such tricks with
Shakespeare. But less scrupulous actors and actresses have
saved many a third-rate play and movie with their bags of
Comic actors especially tend to have a repertoire of
tricks for getting instant response. Jerry Lewis' pratfalls,
Groucho's raised eyebrows, and Stan Laurel's tears worked
effectively again and again. Another effective trick is the
falsetto accents used by Monty Python's Flying Circus. Read
aloud the following dialogue in your normal voice.
DR. A: Oh, look--there's a penguin on the television
DR. B: What's it doing there?
DR. A: Standing.
DR. B: No, No. I mean, where did it come from?
DR. A: Perhaps it escaped from the zoo.
DR. B: No, no. Then it would have "Property of the
Zoo" stamped on it.
DR. A: They don't stamp animals. How would they
stamp a great lion?
DR. B: They stamp them when they're small.
DR. A: But what if it molts?
DR. B: Lion's don't molt!
DR. A: Yes, but penguins do. See--I run circles
around you logically.
Now unless you have an odd sense of humor, you probably
don't find this very funny. Now read the same dialogue with
a high, squeaky falsetto. It's amazing the difference one
little trick makes!
What has all this to do with teaching? What does it
have to do with creating an effective classroom environment?
Plenty! The social studies teacher is frequently playing to
Saturday matinee type audiences--often to six of them a day--
audiences that are cold, unresponsive, and hard to be won
over. Fortunately, some of the same tricks that work for
actors on stage can work equally well in helping you win over
your students, to help you overcome that "we are not amused"
attitude and to get involved with the material you are
TRICK ONE--BREAK THE PROSCENIUM ARCH
In a traditionally-designed theater, there is a great
arch over the front of the stage, the proscenium arch.
Beginning actors are told that, when they are on stage, they
are to ignore everything that goes on on the other side of
the proscenium arch.
In general, this is good advice. Looking directly at
the audience and reacting to what goes on in the audience
breaks the illusion one is trying to create and can spoil the
play. But experienced actors know that, while breaking the
proscenium arch is usually a mistake, there are times when
deliberately breaking the arch is very effective in
increasing audience involvement. Particularly when playing
to children, an actor can make his performance special and
memorable by mixing with the audience at just the right time.
There are several ways in which a social studies teacher
can use this principle:
1. Breaking abruptly from the lecture mode
U.C. Davis Professor Stylianos Spyridakis is one of the
best at using this principal to good effect. Spyridakis is
an excellent lecturer. However, being a non-native speaker
of English, he occasionally still stumbles over the
pronunciation of a word or two. When he does, he steps out
of lecture mode, makes fun of his mistake, corrects himself,
and then plays games with overly exaggerated "correct"
pronunciations, putting on his best "Oxford" accent and
telling students the word should be pronounced "thusly." By
the time he is done, the students are laughing, they've had a
short break from note-taking, and Spyridakis has their extra
The proscenium arch is broken most dramatically whenever
an actor comes into actual physical contact with the members
of the audience. For some reason, the appropriate use of
touch builds a sense of rapport between audience and actor
difficult to achieve in any other way.
Salespeople and church leaders know the value of touch.
Some companies train their cashiers to make sure their hands
actually touch the customer's hand when making change.
Pastors often schedule a moment during church services when
they ask those in attendance to shake hands. Why? Because
they know (whether consciously or unconsciously) that little
is more effective than touch in breaking down aloofness and
helping people to feel a part of the service.
Given the times we live in, touching one's students can
lead to problems, and one has to be careful. Some students
rightly resent touching as an invasion of their private
space. But touch is too powerful a technique to give up
completely, and there are a couple of ways touch can be used
without creating problems.
Handshakes and "high fives" are both appropriate uses of
touch. Giving a student a "high five" for a particularly
good answer is both appropriate and effective. I use "a
hearty handshake from Dr. Art" as a no-value prize in certain
situations, e.g. when I want students to attend a campus
event but don't want to give them extra credit. I get extra
mileage out of the handshake shtick by playing it up in two
different ways: sometimes by exaggerating how wonderful it
is, but more often by exaggerating how awful it is ("Eeyueu.
I was touched by a history professor. I hope it's not
contagious. I better go wash.").
Touch between students is also effective. For instance,
when discussing the feudal oath, I have the students pair up
and go through the motions of the oath-taking ceremony. One
student in each pair is the vassal, the other the lord. The
"vassal" places his hands together, while the "lord" covers
the vassal's folded hands with his own. This simple trick
makes the whole discussion of the feudal oath and its meaning
far more memorable.
3. Students as visual aids
Students themselves make very effective visual aids.
Using students in this way is really breaking the proscenium
arch in reverse, taking the audience into the "actor's"
I use this trick every chance I get. When discussing
the flagellants, for instance, I get a long line of students
marching through the classroom, crying out about their sins
and pretending to whip one another. When discussing Zeno's
paradoxes, I have a student help me recreate the race between
Achilles and the Tortoise.6
The paradox involved here is a paradox of motion. Achilles
is a very swift runner. He is about to race a tortoise, but the
tortoise is given a head start. How long will it take Achilles
to catch the tortoise? Zeno reasoned he can never catch the
tortoise. Why? Because in order to catch the tortoise, Achilles
must first race to the tortoise's starting point some distance
ahead. This will take some time, and the tortoise will have
moved along to a new location. Achilles will now have to reach
the tortoise's new location. This will take some time, and the
tortoise will have moved a long to a new location. Achilles will
have now have to reach this new location. This will take some
time, and the tortoise will have moved ahead to a new location.
How long will this go on? Forever, according to Zeno, and
Achilles never will catch the tortoise.
TRICK TWO: MAKE LIGHT OF YOUR SUBJECT AND YOURSELF
Another trick for increasing interest in your class is
to make light of your subject and yourself. You can
exaggerate how much they hate history, how horrible it is to
be in your class and to have to do the kind of things they
are asked to do. Better yet, exaggerate how much they hate
you personally. U.C. Davis professor Bill Bowsky had this
trick down to an art. He developed an incredibly funny and
effective paranoid shtick that he used to fill time while
waiting for students to answer his questions. ("You all hate
me. That's why you won't answer. You know the answer, but
you like making me feel uncomfortable standing here waiting.
You're trying to drive me back into therapy.")
Now the interesting thing about the paranoid "you hate
me and my class" routine is that (unless the students really
do hate you and your class) they will go out of their way to
show that they really are interested and that they do like
the class--even though they know the routine is not serious.
You can also get lots of mileage by exaggerating the
value of your class. For instance, in my classes students
occasionally have to learn some unfamiliar words like
"defenestration." I point out to them that, when they go
home, they can use such words to impress their parents and
make their folks glad to fork over tuition money for another
semester. My classes also deal with some rather strangely
named historical figures, e.g. Phye (pronounced "fooey"),
Snefru, and Xenophantes (which means "funny looking"). When
I get to one of these oddly named characters, I point out an
added value to my class: you get some great ideas for naming
your children. Finally, several of the things I mention in
class are helpful to know when playing Trivial Pursuit. When
this happens I tell my students how smart they will look when
they get a question like "What was Tycho Brahe's nose made
out of?" and they can say, "Well, the card will probably say
gold, but I happen to know that it was actually made out of a
combination of gold, silver, and copper."
I get the most mileage, however, by telling students
what a wonderful place my class is for sleep. I point out
how warm the classroom is and how comfortable the seats are.
I also tell them the story of how I became a history
For years, I used to read to my little sister every
night at bedtime. One day, just before dropping off,
she said to me, "Art, you have the most beautiful voice
for putting people to sleep." It was at that moment I
knew I should be a history professor.
TRICK THREE: VOICES AND FACES
While a nice, soothing, soporific voice may have some
use in the classroom, it's good to have some other types of
voices to go with it. The best lecturers usually have a few
character voices for occasional use--a student voice, an
administrator voice, a parent voice, etc. Professor Bowsky
was especially effective with his student voices. I have
stolen one of his characters and invented one of my own, both
of which are extremely handy in certain situations.
The first student voice (stolen from Dr. Bowsky) is
extremely high pitched and excited. I use it for
exaggerating students' potential positive responses. ("Tell,
us, yes tell us, oh glorious professor. We are just dying to
know the real causes of the Peloponnesian War. Don't make us
wait. We don't want to go to lunch. We want to stay and
listen to your fascinating lecture.")
The other student voice is low pitched and sullen. I
use it for exaggerating students' negative responses.
"Unfair, unfair. You can't give us a test on the first day
of class. You haven't taught us anything yet. Not that
you're going to teach us anything."
Having special facial expressions can also be effective
in getting responses from students. Raising the eyebrows,
peering over one's glasses, dropping one's head in defeat,
etc. can all be developed into effective shtick.7
Dr. Zacharie Clements, a frequent guest speaker at
TRICK FOUR: HUMOR
Almost nothing is more effective than humor in creating
an effective classroom environment and in getting students to
look forward to your class. Most teachers know this, and try
to dress up their presentations with a few jokes.
The easiest way to add humor to the class is simply to
check out a few joke books from the library or to look
through the "Think and Grin" pages of old Boys' Life
magazines. You get such gems as the following:
FATHER: When I was your age, history was my best
SON: When you were my age, what had happened?
There are two problems with using such jokes in your
class. First of all, it's often hard to connect the jokes
with what you are doing. The greater problem, however, is
that the jokes simply are not very funny. You can look
through joke book after joke book and not come up with much
that causes real laughter.
The reason for this is that the best humor is holistic.
It's not an isolated joke that's funny, but a comedian's
whole routine. It's rarely the first act of a comedy that's
education conferences, does some rather amazing things with
voices and faces. He has two particularly effective voices: a
falsetto voice he uses for a burned-out teacher, and a heavily
accented imitation of his Italian immigrant grandfather. If you
ever have the chance, try to see Dr. Clements in action.
really funny, but the last. Thus to get true humor into your
class, you have to do something more than learn jokes out of
a joke book. Fortunately, it's not too difficult to
incorporate real humor into your class if you know what makes
things funny in the first place. Among the many sources of
humor are the following:
1. The expected
Seeing the same stupid mistake over and over again makes
an audience laugh--and laugh louder the more times its
repeated. Fibber McGee's closet, Rob Petrie tripping over
his ottoman, Laurel and Hardy letting a piano slide down a
flight of steps for the fifth time are all examples of the
expected as a source of humor.
Similar patterns are very frequent in history. The
"soldier emperors" of Rome, for instance, constantly sent
their best generals to deal with the threat of barbarian
invasion. When the general was successful, his troops would
proclaim him emperor. They would then march on Rome, kill the
old emperor, and put their man in his place, usually getting
plenty of extra money for themselves as a coronation gift.
The barbarians would then flow across the frontier, the new
emperor would send his best general to meet the threat, the
general would be successful, his troops would proclaim him
emperor, they would then march on Rome, kill the old emperor,
and the cycle would begin again.8
As you present such stories to your students, they get
to the point where they can predict what's going to happen
next and can help you along with your lecture.
2. The unexpected
The unexpected, the times when a pattern is broken, can
also be funny. In Singing in the Rain, Donald O'Conner has
the great song "Make 'em Laugh." During the course of the
song, he dances up each of the set walls in turn, using the
wall to turn a complete somersault. It's an impressive bit
of dancing--but what makes it effective as comedy is that
when O'Connor dances up the last wall it turns out to be only
a canvas flat and he bursts through. Extremely funny--partly
because it's not what you expect.
Actually, this is an oversimplification. The pattern
repeated itself, but with variations that make it far more
interesting than the brief story I give here.
The unexpected is also a frequent pattern in history.
Things build to a logical conclusion, but instead, the
pattern is broken. For instance, during the Roman
Revolution, the typical pattern for a leader taking control
was to slaughter his enemies. Marius seized control, and his
followers massacred the senators. Sulla seized control, and
massacred the followers of Marius, Caesar took control and
did what? Students will guess that he massacred his
senatorial opponents, but this isn't what happened. Caesar
was a merciful man, and did not do what one would have
3. The inappropriate
Another source of humor is the inappropriate--the wrong
thing (or the wrong person), in the wrong place, and at the
wrong time. History is full of examples of the
inappropriate. Joe Kennedy as SEC chairman, Caligula's horse
as a senator, Art Marmorstein writing a book on teaching
methods--the list goes on and on.
In addition to finding examples of the inappropriate in
actual history, you can dress up almost any story by the
addition of a few inappropriate details of your own
Be careful to thank students for their logical answers,
pointing out that their answer does describe the logical course
before pointing out the actual course events took.
The young people of Florence went from house to house
collecting what Savanarola told them were "vanities,"
things of no good purpose, offensive to God. They
brought the vanities to Savanarola to be burned. Into
the bonfires went the pornographic pictures, the
pornographic books, the overly-fancy clothing, the wigs,
the U-2 records, the notes from Marmorstein's class...
4. The appropriate
Another important source of humor is the appropriate.
Audiences throughout the centuries have laughed at the same
old stories: the greedy old miser losing his fortune through
trying to cheat someone else, the lecherous nobleman brought
down by his own lechery, the braggart humiliated when his
boasts are shown to be empty.
History is full of examples here too: Astyages dethroned
by the grandson he had tried to kill, Belshazzar partying
away his kingdom, Robespierre going to the same punishment
he had inflicted on so many others.
Note that opposites work. The expected is funny, and
the unexpected is funny. The appropriate is funny, and the
inappropriate is funny. Consider the following example from
Among the candidates running for consul in 63 B.C. were
Catiline and Cicero. Cicero was a very impressive man. A
highly competent and successful lawyer, a leading
philosopher, one of the greatest orators and writers of all
time, and a reputation as a defender of morality and justice.
Catiline was a very different sort of fellow. He had
seduced a vestal virgin, deflowered one of his virgin
daughters, and killed one of his sons because a prospective
new wife didn't like the boy. His campaign consisted of
lavish parties where guests were offered, not only food and
drink, but male and female prostitutes for their amusement.
With these two men, the highly moral Cicero and the
completely immoral Catiline, who did the Roman people choose?
My students always guess they chose the inappropriate
candidate, Catiline. As it happens, the Roman people at this
point still had the sense to choose Cicero, but the story
would be effective with either ending.
Another example of a story that works with either the
appropriate or inappropriate ending is the 1992 presidential
election. In this election, the American people had to
choose between Bill Clinton and George Bush. Bush was an
experienced statesman and administrator, having served in
both houses of Congress, as director of the CIA, and as vice-
president, and, for four years, as President of the United
States. As President, Bush had led the country to its first
important clear military victory since World War II. At the
same time, his economic policies helped lead the country to
the highest GNP of any nation in all history. In addition,
Bush was a solid family man, a combat veteran of World War
II, and a dog lover. Clinton's political experience was
limited to six years as governor of one of the smallest,
poorest, and most corrupt states in the union, a state
ranking near the bottom in education, health care quality,
and per capita income. As governor, he had funneled
government contracts to his wife's law firm and used his
connections to cover up the shady financial transactions of
his buddies and business partners. Clinton admitted cheating
on his wife, but the evidence suggested more, that he had
used his political power to attempt to win sexual favors from
state employees. He smoked dope (though he didn't inhale)
and dodged the draft. And on top of that, he was a cat
With these two men to choose from, the American people
picked... whom? It doesn't matter. Well, it does matter--
but not as far as the story is concerned. It's a good story
whether the ending is appropriate or inappropriate.10
Obviously, this story of the 1992 election leaves a lot of
things out: the role of Ross Perot, Bush's broken "read my lips"
promise on taxes, the slight downturn in the economy, the clever
handling of the campaign by Ron Brown, the lingering questions
over Bush's role in Iran-Contra, etc. These things would all be
Note that, since opposites work (the appropriate and the
inappropriate, the expected and the unexpected), everything
we discuss in history is potentially amusing (or at least
interesting). But in order to take advantage of this, you
must build in your students a sense of what to expect next
and what would/would not be appropriate. Many teachers (and
virtually all textbooks) fail to do this. Don't make that
5. The Topper
Another source of humor easily adapted to the history
classroom is the topper. Toppers involve a series of
comments or actions in which two character each try to outdo
the other. One well-known set of toppers is the song
"Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" from Annie, Get Your
Gun. My favorite topper, however, is a scene in one of the
Marx brothers movies.
Harpo is stopped by a policeman for doing something he
shouldn't be doing. The policeman gives Harpo a stern
lecture, shaking his finger at Harpo. Harpo begins lecturing
the policeman, shaking his finger, but with a big smile on
his face. The policeman gets angry, and begins writing Harpo
a part of the discussion or lecture that followed, and one hopes
that students would be more intrigued by a discussion of these
elements of the election when they see them as parts of an answer
to an intriguing puzzle: how could Bush have lost to Clinton?
a ticket. Harpo, still smiling, begins writing the policeman
a ticket. The policeman, even angrier, tears up Harpo's
ticket. Harpo, still smiling, tears up the policeman's
ticket. The now furious policeman points to his badge.
Harpo, with his biggest grin, opens his coat--and shows the
policeman a dozen badges fastened inside.
The topper is very easy to use as a principle for
organizing a lecture. Wars and political campaigns can
easily be presented as a series of toppers. One side does
one thing, the next side does something else in response, the
first side tries to top that, the second side again responds,
and the whole thing builds until one side comes up with the
6. Insult Humor/Put-downs
Another important source of humor in the classroom is
the clever put-down. Comedians who work before a live
audience usually have dozens of these at their disposal in
order to deal with various kinds of trouble makers:
For the noise makers: Let's play library. You be the
For the penny throwers: There's only one animal that
throws a scent and it's here
For the hecklers: I don't need your criticism. I
have a wife and teenage
daughter at home.
For the rude: Please try to act like a decent
human being. Or don't you do
Similar put-downs can work in the classroom, but they're
rather dangerous. Make a teenager look ridiculous, and he
will hate you. There are, however, plenty of legitimate
targets for put-down type humor, including many historical
figures. Fortunately, clever put-downs tend to be
remembered, and you can often find funny lines (and sometimes
books) associated with the figures you talk about in class.
"The Wit and Wisdom of Winston Churchill," for instance,
contains some very funny exchanges.
LADY: If you were my husband, I'd poison your
CHURCHILL: If you were my wife, I'd drink it.
LADY: You're drunk!
CHURCHILL: Yes, Madam. And you're ugly. But in the
morning, I'll be sober.
There are plenty of other such lines and stories
associated with famous historical figures. My favorite is
Vachel Lindsay's line "Where is McKinley, Mark Hannah's
McKinley, his slave, his echo, his suit of clothes?" I also
like Mark Rinehart's quip after his visit to the Black Hills.
MARK: Did you hear they're adding two new faces to
MARK: Yes. Bill Clinton.
7. The best source of humor
While I am pretty good at making my material funny, I
have always found that the best lines come not from me, but
from my students. In a class of any size, there is always at
least one student who has the knack for seeing what's funny
in life. If you give these students half a chance, they will
supply all the humor you need.
How do you encourage these students? Simply be a good
audience yourself. Listen to what your students say. React.
Laugh. Once the students with comic ability know you will
laugh at the funny things they say, they'll give you an
endless supply of laugh-lines. Your whole class will end up
laughing together--and your students will enjoy social
TRICK FIVE: BUILD UP YOUR FELLOW CAST MEMBERS
Actors are a bit egotistical: each one wants to be the
star, to have the audiences go home raving about their
particular performance. Now one might think that the way to
do this is to do whatever it takes to draw attention to
yourself, to constantly upstage the other actors, and to
steal the spotlight whenever possible, even if it means
messing up another actor's performance. Some ham amateurs
try this, but professionals know that the best performers are
those who make everyone around them look good.11 They will
sacrifice the spotlight, and give up some of their best bits
if it makes the production better, knowing that, in the long
run, being part of a great show makes you look better than
the finest performance in a flop.
The same principle applies to us as teachers. We might
think we look good as teachers when other teachers are made
to look bad. Exactly the reverse is true. The more we build
up the other teachers we work with, the better our whole
program will appear to the students. As students' attitudes
toward school in general improve, their attitude toward your
class will also tend to improve. Positive attitudes toward
school tend to breed success--and further reasons for being
Praise other teachers to students and parents every
chance you get. Cite other teachers as authorities for some
of what you do/discuss in class. Eventually, what goes
around comes around, and you'll find you have the same kind
The dancers especially know how to make their partners
look good. A Fred Astaire or a Gene Kelley can make a broom or a
mop seem like a wonderful dancer.
of things said about you.
TRICK SIX: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF THE TECHIES
An actor learns very quickly how much a cleverly chosen
costume, a skillfully designed set, or an adept adjustment of
the lighting can add to a performance. Each added technical
element works its own special magic in rehearsals and
performance, and the right technical crew can turn an
ordinary performance into something to remember.
Unfortunately, we don't have techies to help us in the
classroom, and so we have to do the set, lighting, and
costume designs for ourselves.
1. The set
In most performances, the first thing the audience sees
is the set, and it is important that the set create just the
right first impression. The same thing is true of our
classrooms. Before we even begin to speak, the physical
environment of the classroom sets a mood for what will
follow. Bulletin boards, maps, charts, historical artifacts
should all say (with Prof. Bowsky) "return with us now to
those thrilling days of yester-year." Perhaps most effective
of all, is to have a room filled with the results of the
students' own work: student-made maps, bulletin boards,
What you wear to class makes a great deal of difference
in how students respond to you. They respond one way to a
teacher dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, and entirely
differently to teacher in a three-piece suit. Which style
of dress is better? It depends on what you want. Formal
dress establishes a distance between student and teacher. It
also conveys a sense of authority. Young teachers often find
that dressing formally gives them a measure of respect they
might not otherwise have. Informal dress tends to diminish
the gap between student and teacher. It invites more student
participation and, since it is generally more comfortable,
makes it easier to get through the day.
Few teachers think much about lighting in the classroom,
but it's an element that shouldn't be ignored. Inappropriate
lighting or heating or simply too much outside noise can ruin
an otherwise good learning environment. Look out for your
students as much as you can in these areas.
TRICK SEVEN: DON'T LET THE AUDIENCE RIOT
Audiences of today are taught to be polite. They
usually sit still through a performance no matter how bad it
is. This hasn't always been the case. In the past, actors
and actresses were often hooted off the stage by patrons who
didn't like their performance, and whole shows were stopped
by unruly audiences--including the premier performances of
some of the greatest stage works in all history.
Unfortunately, American students can behave like the old
audiences, and often enough they succeed in shutting down any
learning that might be going on in the classroom. Many
potentially excellent teachers have left the profession
because of unruly students.
I have no magic recipe for successful classroom
management. I do have some suggestions that may help:
1. Beware of anyone who claims to have a magic recipe for
successful classroom management.
Assertive discipline, PIP programs, etc. probably work
fine for the people who invented them, but they tend to
backfire when imposed system-wide by a school district. We
can't all use the same discipline techniques. Vibrant young
women and crotchety old men can both maintain discipline--but
they do it differently.
2. Decide how to handle discipline problems before they
arise. Know the discipline policies of your school and
district and what sanctions are under your control. Decide
what disciplinary procedures you will use. Don't improvise.
3. Be prepared for class both physically and intellectually.
Discipline is far easier to maintain if one comes into
class well prepared, knowing exactly how to allocate the time
available. It is also easier when one is getting plenty of
sleep and exercise and eating three good meals a day. You
can almost count on an increase in discipline problems
whenever you let yourself get run down physically, and
discipline problems tend to disappear when you come into
class full of life and energy.
4. Place responsibility for poor behavior on the student, not
In general, adult response to conflicts is to accept
at least part of the responsibility for any difficult
situation that arises. When dealing with student
misbehavior, that may not always be the wisest approach.
Several years ago, I watched one of my student teachers
settle a misbehaving student with a rather curt, "What's your
problem?" I was a bit taken aback: the tone seemed
offensive. But after I thought about it for a while, I
realized that that was probably exactly the right thing to
say. The misbehavior was the student s problem, not the
5. Address specific students rather than the class as a
whole. "Let's quiet down" doesn't work as well as "Arthur,
you're a bit too loud."
6. Don't give instructions you don't intend to enforce.
Over and over again I see student teachers making the
same mistake, repeating their instruction (usually "quiet
down") several times while the students ignore them. It's
better not to give an instruction at all than to let it be
7. Know the bottom line.
Sooner or later, some kid will point blank refuse to do
him to do.
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TRICK EIGHT: LISTEN TO YOUR DIRECTOR
What counts in the theater is not how the play looks to
the actor, but how it appears to the audience.
Unfortunately, no actor, no matter how good, can really tell
how his performance looks from the audience's point of view.
This is why even the best actor has to rely on his director.
The director can watch rehearsals from every seat in the
house. He can tell the actor when his lines can be heard in
the back of the auditorium and whether or not his expressions
and gestures can be seen. The best actors want such
direction. It gives them the freedom to experiment with all
sorts of different things, knowing that there's a reliable
person to tell them what works and what doesn't.
Good teachers must also learn to listen to their
director. Some of you may ask, "What director? The school
administrator?" Hardly. School administrators seldom know
what's going on in individual classrooms and rarely can give
you the kind of feedback you need. I'm talking about
learning to listen to the real director. The real director?
Yes, you do have a real director, and you need to learn to
listen to Him. In other words, you should pray for your
students and for yourself as a teacher.
"PRAY IN SCHOOL??!! WHAT'S THAT DOING IN A TEXTBOOK???
CALL THE ACLU! CALL PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY!! CALL THE
Well, o.k., but hear me out first. I know that it isn't
politically correct to advocate prayer in school, but I
advocate it nevertheless--and I think with good reason.
When I was just starting out as a teacher, a more
experienced teacher told me that I should always try to look
at my class from my students' point of view. That's
excellent advice, but not always easy to apply. Prayer is
one excellent way of being able to set one's own views aside
and open up to a different perspective on one's class.
I first realized this when teaching drama and English in
a private junior high school in California. My students at
this school were excellent. The "average" kid in these
classes was two grade levels ahead of national averages on
standardized achievement tests. The students were also
extremely talented: musical, athletic, and (especially
important to me) the most gifted young actors and actresses I
had ever seen. The kids were teachable, polite, and eager to
learn more. All except for Mike.
Mike was a thorn in the side to every teacher in the
school. He was a poor student, never on task, always getting
into trouble, and a distraction to others who were trying to
learn. He was clumsy and careless, once breaking fifty
dollars worth of stage lights by throwing a football in the
One day, especially frustrated at his behavior, I
started praying for Mike. Now I had prayed about Mike
before, but praying for him was something different. As I
prayed, I began to see things from Mike's perspective, to see
what it must be like to be the worst student in every
subject, to be the kid nobody liked, to be the kid who was
always in trouble. Further, I began to feel what it must be
like to be raised by a grandmother in a school where everyone
else came from traditional families--and my heart sank.
Strangely, once I understood things from Mike's point of
view, I knew how to handle him. My discipline problems with
him almost disappeared. He began doing better work in my
classes, and I can honestly say that I enjoyed having him in
Gaining such insights into students is enough reason for
prayer, but there are others. Prayer reminds us that our
students are not animals, but creatures destined by God to
live forever. It reminds us that our primary role as
teachers is the care of souls, and that our role in guiding
these young souls is the most important task on earth. "I
touch the future; I teach" reads a popular education bumper
sticker--and it's even more true than some of us realize.
Perhaps even better would be, "I teach; I touch eternity."
GLUING STUDENTS TO THEIR SEATS AND OTHER FUN
SOCIAL SCIENCE GAMES AND ACTIVITIES
Perhaps the best way of creating an effective classroom
environment is to give students something to look forward to
when they come to your class. I have asked students in my
previous methods classes to come up with contests, games, and
activities they think students will particularly enjoy. I
include here some of their suggestions mixed with a few ideas
of my own.
This activity is best done in groups of around six. An
unusual (but historically important!) word is read and
spelled to the group. Each person in the group writes a
brief "definition" of the word. Each person hands in their
definition, then all definitions are read twice to the whole
group. Each person then guesses which definition is correct.
Score three points for each correct guess and one point for
each person who guesses that your definition is the correct
2. Fictionary Encyclopedia
Play as fictionary above, but instead of vocabulary
words, use important historical figures/events.
3. History Expert
One person is the expert on the topic under discussion.
The expert gets a place of honor at the front of the class,
perhaps the teacher's desk. The other students can ask any
question they want about the topic. If the "expert" answers
incorrectly, the person asking the question becomes the new
history expert and gets the expert's chair. This works well
both as a closed book and as an open book exercise.
4. Historywood Squares
Play as Hollywood squares. Give some "stars" the
answers ahead of time, let the rest bluff. This might be a
good way to introduce a new topic.
5. History Tennis
Give students a list of important events and dates such
as the following:
Norman conquest of England 1066
Magna Carta 1215
Hundred Years' War Begins 1337
Black Death decimates Europe 1348
Fall of Constantinople 1453
Martin Luther's 95 theses 1517
Select one student as the history tennis champion and
one student as the challenger. Challenging student "serves"
a particular historical event. The student receiving the
serve must answer correctly, then serve up an event of their
own. A point is scored when one student misses. The student
with the last correct answer is the champion, and remains up
front to take on a new challenger.
This also works well as a memorization drill. Students
recite alternate words of whatever is being memorized (e.g.,
the Preamble to the Constitution). The first student to miss
a word sits down and there is a new challenger.
6. Choral Reading
Choral reading sometimes works as a way of getting
students to pay closer attention to an important document,
e.g. the Declaration of Independence. Give the students the
selection you want them to concentrate on and divide them
into groups of six-eight. Choose a director for each group,
and explain that the group's job is to come up with an
interesting way of presenting the selection. The selection
can be divided into solo parts, duets, and trios or into
parts for two semi-choruses. Students may have some
difficulty at first. Letting the students listen to a
recording of Vachel Lindsay reading his poems is a good way
to get them started.
7. Mock Trials
Prepare to put a historical figure on trial, e.g.
Socrates, Columbus, Robert Clive, Napoleon etc. Let one side
prepare the case for the prosecution, the other side prepare
the case for the defense. Be sure to have a competent judge
8. Exercises in parliamentary procedure
Let students go through all the steps in getting a bill
signed into law--and in preventing bills from being signed!
Teach them about motions to postpone, assigning bills to
committee, filibusters, etc. and also techniques for
9. Political Conventions
Divide class into two parties plus a few independents.
Let each party hold a convention. Give each student some
particular concern or concerns regarding political issues.
Then divide the class into two parties plus a few
independents. Tell each student that their aim is to get a
candidate and a party platform as close as possible to their
position, but that they must be pretty sure their candidate
will win the election. Allow only five planks in the
platform. Have each party read their platform to the class
as a whole and let the candidates they select speak briefly
on the platform. Then hold your election!12
Washington and Lee University stages a very impressive
10. Pig Farmer
A basic economics/politics game that can get as
complicated as you want. Basic goal: stay alive! Additional
goals can be added--earn enough money to marry and raise
children, win political office, earn more money than the rest
of the players, make sure all players are well off. To
start, give each player one of the following: land, money,
seed, male pigs, or female pigs. Give them basic assumptions
on the productivity of the land, feed needed by the pigs,
etc. Let them trade with each other and see what happens to
prices of pigs, land, etc. Add extra details to the game to
teach various aspects of economics and politics. Add an
export market. Add the possibility of capital improvement in
their land. Establish a basic personal consumption minimum
to stay in the game. Allow students to hire out their labor.
Establish a religion that doesn't eat pork! Set up a
political system to regulate trade, provide welfare,
redistribute wealth, etc.
10. Paper Mache Globe (Bev Leppert)
Provide students with balloons, paper strips, glue
(flour and water paste works fine) bowls of water, paints or
markers. Have them each make a world of their own, painting
mock convention every four years. It s well worth watching a
video recording of any of their previous conventions.
or coloring it in any way they choose. The worlds can be
used to decorate your room. This is a good introductory
activity for a geography class.
11. Current Events Collage (Bev Leppert)
Provide students with scissors, construction paper, and
glue. Students are responsible for bringing articles from
newspapers and magazines. Articles with pictures and large
headings work best. Students make a collage out of the
articles they have collected. They then present their work
to the class, with short History Mu summaries of the articles
12. Current Events Mural (Bev Leppert)
Provide students with butcher paper, paint, brushes,
markers, crayons, and colored pencils. Organize students
into groups and tell them to select a topic relevant to the
material currently being studied in your class. Have each
group make a mural depicting that topic. Have students
explain their murals to the class as a whole.
13. Create a Newspaper (Bev Leppert)
Divide students into groups, appointing an editor for
each group. Have each group put together a newspaper
consisting of stories relevant to the unit topic. Include
headlines, bylines, datelines, and pictures.
14. Writing a Protest Song (Bev Leppert)
Hand out some examples of old protest songs such as
"Beans, Bacon, and Gravy," "We Shall Overcome," or "We Didn't
Start the Fire." Have students divide into groups and write
their own protest songs using current issues or issues
related to the material you are currently studying. Songs
can be set to familiar tunes, or students can make up their
15. Classroom Campaign (Bev Leppert)
Have the students divide into groups. Each group
selects a candidate and runs a campaign for that candidate,
complete with speeches, campaign posters, debates, chants and
16. Form your own colony (Bev Leppert)
Divide the class into groups. Each group decides on a
reason why they want to work together to form a colony.
After deciding on a purpose for their colony, they draw up a
list of rules, divide up duties, form a government, figure
out a way to live, etc. They then present the results of
their work to the whole class.
17. History Basketball (Chip Sundberg)
Divide students into teams. Students are asked
questions on the material being studied. If the student
answers a question correctly, he gets a chance to shoot an
eraser at a waste paper basket from one, three, or five point
18. Picture History (Leah Bossman)
Play like Pictionary but use social science events,
figures, and terms.
19. Jeopardy (Leah Bossman)
Play like the game show but use categories relevant to
the material studied in class. This is a good game for
reinforcing concepts and ideas studied in earlier units.
20. History Charades (Leah Bossman)
A group or individual is given a historical term or
event. They act it out without saying anything until the
rest of the class guesses what they are acting out.
21. History News (Leah Bossman)
The class is split into groups of about four. Each
group is given a historical event to report on. They then
put together a T.V. type news show, complete with relevant
commercials, sports, weather, interviews, etc. For instance,
a group doing the Boston Tea Party might develop a commercial
about a new and improved tea that would resist salt-water
damage. The sports segment could feature crate throwing as a
sport, while the weather forecast might suggest good tea-
22. Alphabet Geography (Leah Bossman)
The teacher starts the game by giving a student the name
of a river, a state, an ocean, or a country. The student has
ten seconds to come up with a term that starts with the last
letter of the previous term. For example, if the teacher
starts the game with the James River, the next person could
say Rapid City, while the next could say Yankton.
23. Who Said? (Leah Bossman)
Students select quotes from historical figures. The
rest of the class has to identify the person and the
situation leading to the quote. If the class cannot identify
the figure, the student gives additional clues or quotes.
24. What If? (Leah Bossman)
Students write papers explaining what they think might
have happened if certain historical events had been somewhat
different. For example, students might discuss how the Civil
War might have been different had Lee chosen to fight on the
25. History Rap (Leah Bossman)
Have groups of students develop a rap song using
historical events and figures as the basis for their lyrics.
The groups then perform their songs before the class. The
group with the best performance or most original idea gets
extra credit points.
26. History Feud (Leah Bossman)
Play like Family Feud. The class is divided into two
teams. Individuals from each team face off to decide who
gets control of the game. The team with control retains
control unless it gets three strikes. The team in control
when all answers are in gets the points. A good question for
this game: name the original thirteen colonies.
27. History Taboo (Brad Sale)
Prepare cards in advance. Each card names at the top an
important historical figure or event, perhaps the most
important terms to know for an upcoming exam. Below the key
word, list a series of "taboo" words, words the student
cannot use in trying to get the class to guess the term on
his card. Score one point for each word the student gets his
team-mates to guess correctly. Subtract one point for using
a taboo word.
28. Psychiatrist/Counselor (Brad Sale)
One student is chosen as the doctor or counselor. The
other students invent problems for which they want advice.
As long as the class thinks the answers are good, the doctor
remains the doctor. Otherwise, the student posing the
problem becomes the new doctor.
29. Time Machine (Brad Sale)
Students write a screen play about an imaginary trip
back to the time you are studying in class. If a video
camera is available, they might actually produce their play.
30. Let's Change History (Brad Sale)
Students are asked to decide what historical events they
would change if it was in their power to do so. They are
then asked to describe what subsequent history would have
been like had those changes been made.
31. Sale Roulette (Brad Sale)
Students are asked one at a time to supply a detail from
the chapter assigned for that day. Students stay in the game
until they repeat an item mentioned previously by another
student or are unable to come up with anything new.
32. Fast Talk (Kim Nikolas)
One player is "it." He names a historic character,
points to another player, and counts from one to ten at a
fairly rapid pace. The player pointed to must supply one
fact about the character before the first player reaches ten.
If he succeeds, the first player remains "it." Otherwise,
the new player is "it."
33. Interviews (Kim Nikolas)
Students are divided into pairs. One pretends to be an
important historical or contemporary figure. The other is
the interviewer. Together, the two do enough research to
present a convincing interview to the rest of the class.
34. Historic Letter-writing (Kim Nikolas)
Students write imaginary letters from the point of view
of a person who has first hand experience of an important
event. Example: An Oklahoma farmer writing to his brother
as he prepares to move his family to California in 1933.
Another example: A survivor of the atomic attack at
Hiroshima writes to a friend in Tokyo.
35. Diaries/Journals (Kim Nikolas)
A student assumes the identify of a historical character
and writes a diary entry (or series of entries) from that
character's point of view. Example: The secret diary of a
sailor who traveled with Columbus. Another example: A week
in the life of a Jamestown settler.
36. Political Cartoons (Kim Nikolas)
Students search old newspapers for political cartoons
from the period being studied. They then explain these
cartoons to the class. For recent topics, students can draw
their own cartoons.
37. Historic Eulogy (Kim Nikolas)
Students write and deliver a eulogy of a favorite
historical character. An option is to have them not mention
the character by name, and see if the class can guess the
38. Letter to the Editor (Kim Nikolas)
Students write letters to the editor defending a certain
viewpoint. Example: A student might write a letter to an
1840 newspaper defending a woman's right to speak to a mixed
39. Foods from Around the World (Kristin Albee)
Have students do oral reports on a county or region.
Have them make maps and tell about the culture of the people
in the country they are studying. On the day they give their
report, have them bring a food from that country for the
class to try. There are many simple, inexpensive recipes
they can use. Students can also work in pairs for this
40. Wagon Train Board Game (Kristin Albee)
Divide students into groups, give each a sheet of poster
board, and have each design a wagon train game board. Have
them include appropriately designated squares (e.g., broken
wheel, lose one turn).
41. Popsicle Stick Fort (Kristin Albee)
Have students work in teams to construct different parts
of an old west fort or town. Have them then set up the
entire fort and explain what role the piece they built played
in the welfare of the town. There are lots of other
historical settings one students could construct from
popsicle sticks or sugar cubes.
42. Topographical Map (Kristin Albee)
Use clay13, play dough, legos, construction paper, or
paper mache to build a topographical map of a state of
country. Students must put in all major land forms such as
mountains and rivers.
43. Psychology Head (Kristin Albee)
Divide students into groups. Have each group draw an
outline of a human head (profile works best) on poster board.
Have them turn the head into a game board for use with
psychology-related questions. Have them write questions and
answers on cards, then let the groups exchange games and
44. Review Concentration (Lisa Taylor)
Play this game just like regular concentration. The
twist is to write review questions on one card, the answer on
the other, so that students must know the correct answers to
45. My Favorite Historical Character (Lisa Taylor)
The students will need at least one day of prep time for
this activity. Encourage your students to act out or
Donna Marmorstein's recipe for home-made clay: equal
amounts of salt and flour plus enough water to get the
consistency appropriate for your project. Alum can be added as a
impersonate their favorite historical character.
Encourage them to use any wacky props or made-up
costumes they want.
46. Bill and Ted's Excellent Theater Game (Lisa Taylor)
Put the names of a bunch of famous historical characters
from different historical periods into a hat. Have two
people each draw one. Have the two act out their character's
reactions if they were to meet walking down the street.
47. Perception Activity (Lisa Taylor)
Divide the students into pairs. The two partners sit
back to back. Give one partner a card with a figure drawn on
it. This partner describes what he sees on the card to his
partner, who attempts to duplicate the original figure solely
on the basis of his partner's description.
48. Presidential Bingo (Lisa Taylor)
Students prepare Bingo Cards with the names of the
presidents instead of numbers. Each student then gets one
card for the game. Facts about the presidents are read to
the class. When the class correctly figures out which
president is being described, each person who has that
president on their card can cover that space.
49. History Football (Craig Kinzer)
Prepare questions of varying difficulty, easy questions
that represent a ten yard gain mixed with a few harder
questions that represent an automatic touchdown. Divide the
class into two teams. The team with the ball has three
"downs" to advance the football. On the fourth down, the
opposing team has a chance to "blitz." If they answer
correctly before the offensive team, then they get the ball
and a chance to move in the opposite direction.
50. Current Events League (Craig Kinzer)
Divide the class up into three or four person teams, and
have each team compete weekly against one of the other teams
on a current events quiz. Keep track of league standings
over the quarter or the semester and award trophies to the
members of the winning team.
51. History Golf (Craig Kinzer)
For each hole, chose two historical events, one for each
side to guess. Sides take turns guessing the date of their
event, and with each "shot" are told if they are too high or
too low in their guess. Score as in match play golf: the
team taking the fewest number of shots wins that hole.
52. High Stakes Econ (Craig Kinzer)
One student is the broker. Students are given a certain
amount of play money which they invest with the broker to buy
stocks listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Use for prices
the closing figures of the previous day's listing. Students
buy and sell over the course of the semester, trying to
maximize their holdings.
53. Name Tag Match (Mike Trumbo)
Each student has a name tag attached to his/her back.
Somewhere in the class, another student has the same name on
their tag. Students must find their match by asking other
students about the character on their own name tag (Did I
hold a political office? Did I live before the Civil War?
Did I write a book?)
54. Work sheet Relay (Mike Trumbo)
Students are divided into six teams. The player at the
front of each team gets a work sheet. As soon as he finishes
the first question, he passes the work sheet on to the next
person in line. This person completes his question, and
passes the work sheet on. The last player brings the work
sheet back to the front, and the whole process continues
until the entire work sheet is filled out. All team members
can call out answers, but only the person whose turn it is
can do the actual writing.
55. History Card Sharks (Paula Stolsmark)
A deck of cards is needed. The class is divided into
teams. One card is turned up. The team whose turn it is
must guess whether the next card is higher or lower. If they
are wrong, control passes to the other team. If they are
right, they continue to guess until three cards have been
played. The team may then freeze. If they freeze, they must
answer a question on the material you are studying. If they
answer correctly, they get five points for each card played.
56. Sponge or Eraser Baseball (Paula Stolsmark)
Label five areas of the chalkboard as follows: SINGLE,
DOUBLE, TRIPLE, HOME RUN, AND OUT. Let players throw an
eraser or wet sponge at the board. If they hit OUT, the
other team is up. Otherwise, a correct answer to the
question is worth the value of the spot hit. Runners advance
and score as in regular baseball. An incorrect answer is an
out, and control passes to the other team.
57. History Bowling (Deliah Lehrke)
This game requires a play bowling set. Players first
attempt to answer a question. If they get the answer right,
they get to roll the ball at the pins. They get one point
for each pin knocked down. A gutter ball or a wrong answer
give control to the other team.
58. United States Hangman (Chad Anderson)
The teacher assigns each student a state. That student
comes up with fifteen questions regarding that state. These
questions are used for a "hangman" game. The class attempts
to answer the student's questions. For each wrong answer,
another body part is added under the noose.
59. Scattergory Geography (Cari Sonnenburg)
Pick categories such as famous rivers, important cities,
major exports, etc. Choose a letter and a country and have
the students fill in as many categories as they can. Score
as in regular Scattergories where each unique answer is worth
60. Diorama Showcase (Cari Sonnenburg)
Have each student (or groups of students) construct a
diorama of an historical event, a sociological institution, a
state, a city, or a country. Important information about the
topic should be displayed in the diorama. For example, a
diorama of India could have a picture of a lot of people,
rice and wheat fields, a star with New Delhi on it, etc.
61. Current Events Jeopardy (Cari Sonnenburg)
KDLT sends out a questionnaire about news stories they
have broadcast. There are national and international
questions, each ranked according to difficulty. These are
convenient questions to use for a Jeopardy-type game.
62. Meteorology Specialists (Cari Sonnenburg)
After discussing different weather patterns and symbols
in class, have each student or group of students prepare a
weather forecast. Provide a map and a pointer and allow the
students to explain different weather patterns that could
allegedly be hitting different areas soon.
63. Oligopoly (Cari Sonnenburg, Stolen from Mr. Bob Quinn)
Split students into groups of three. Explain that they
are in competition with each other to price the same good.
They have a choice to price the good at $3.00 or $4.00.
Within the groups, have the students discuss what they are
going to do. Let them know ahead of time that if everyone in
the class puts a four, everyone will receive 5 bonus points.
If only one person puts a three, that person has captured
the market and will get 20 bonus points, while the rest of
the class gets nothing. If more than one person puts down a
three, those students get three bonus points and the rest of
the class gets nothing.
64. Daily Trivia (Neil Chalmers)
Get a deck of history trivia cards. Select from these
cards those that are not too easy but which students may be
able to answer. Ask one question at the start of each day.
Whenever the students get the correct answer five days in a
row, reward them with a pop day or something fun.
65. Electricity (Neil Chalmers)
Divide the students into two teams. Each team stands in
a line holding hands. A beanbag is placed within easy reach
of the last member of each team. A question is then read to
the class. If a student knows the answer, he squeezes the
hand of the person next to him. The squeeze is then passed
down the line to the last person. As soon as he feels the
squeeze, this person picks up the bean bag. The team that
picks up the bag gets the first shot at the question.
66. Tic Tac Toe (Neil Chalmers)
Divide into teams (X's and O's) and draw a tic tac toe
board on the chalkboard. Ask review questions of the
students, allowing them to place their symbol in any square
of their choosing if they get the answer right.
67. History Simon Says (Neil Chalmers)
Play Simon Says with your class with this variation: a
student who would normally be out stays in if he can come up
with the correct answer to a review question.
68.History Outburst (Neil Chalmers)
This game is like the board game Outburst. Have a list
of 8-10 items. Divide the class up into teams of 4-6
players. Give one team a category and tell them that they
have one minute to guess all of the items on your list. Give
them a point for every correct answer. The team who gets 40
correct answers first is the winner. Example topics:
Presidents 1900-1960, South Dakota Rivers, Grand Theories of
69. History Darts (Ken VanderVorst)
Divide the class into two teams. Teams take turns
answering questions. If questions are answered correctly,
one team member gets to throw a dart at the board, scoring
for their team the value of that throw.
70. History Baseball (Ken VanderVorst)
Divide the class into two teams. Each team makes up a
"batting order." Four desks are arranged in the shape of a
diamond and used as bases. The teacher pitches questions of
different difficulties (singles, doubles, triples, and home
runs). Student does not select the difficulty, but finds out
the difficulty after his attempt to answer. A missed
question is an out. Each team gets three outs an inning.
71. Time Line (Kerry Livingston)
Students work in small groups. Each group gets a set of
cards naming important historical events. Students are to
arrange these cards in chronological order, fastening each
card in the appropriate place on a time line.
72. Pyramid (Kerry Livingston)
Students form teams of two. One student faces the
class, the other the front of the classroom. A pyramid of
historical categories on an overhead is shown to the member
facing the front and to the other class members, but not to
the student facing the class. The team member facing the
pyramid gets one minute to list members of each group in the
pyramid. When his team-mate guesses correctly, that block in
the pyramid is crossed off, and the team goes on to the next
block. Categories used might include: New Deal Projects,
Abolitionists, Railroads, First Ladies, War Dates, and Famous
73. History Puzzle (Mendy Sippel)
Write a set of history questions and answers close
together on a sheet of paper. Laminate, and cut into
individual pieces. Have the students put the puzzle
together. Better yet, have the students make their own
puzzles and attempt to put together puzzles made by their
74. History Horse Racing (Mendy Sippel)
Horses advance along a race course whenever students
answer a question correctly.
75. Back in Time Day (Brian Schwartze)
Set aside one day as Back in Time Day. Work with
students to create in your classroom the feeling of a
schoolroom of some earlier historical era. The focus should
be on that era's clothing, lifestyles, music, and classroom
etiquette. Serve for lunch food typical of that era. Try to
be as authentic as possible, e.g. doing without electricity
if that is appropriate for the era you recreate.
76. Duckshot (Mendy Sippel)
Players toss bean bags at cardboard ducks. They get one
toss for every correct answer to a question and one point for
every duck knocked down.
77. Chess or Checker Review (Mendy Sippel)
Write review questions on index cards. Students play
checkers or chess using normal rules, but they may not jump
or take a piece unless they correctly answer the question on
the card. Another idea is to have students construct their
own chess sets, using historical figures from the era you are
studying to represent the king, queen, rooks, bishops,
knights, and pawns.
78. Battlefield Sets (Brian Schwartze)
Using whatever material is available (clay, paper,
sticks, twigs, paint, etc.) have students create various
landscapes where important historical battles took place.
These landscapes should look as authentic as possible,
including hills, trees, rivers, roads, and buildings.
79. What's My Line?
A panel of four students gets five minutes to try to
guess the occupation or identity of a student assuming the
role of a historical character. They may ask as many yes-or-
no questions as time allows.
80. Twenty Questions
Guess the person, place or thing in 20 questions or
less. An old game, but still fun.
81. Stump the Teacher
Students prepare questions from the textbook that they
think will be hard enough to stump the teacher.
82. Elimination (Jeff Trudeau)
Divide the class into four teams. Each team receives
ten balloons. The object of the game is to eliminate all of
the other three teams' balloons. Teams take turns answering
questions. A correct answer entitles them to pop any balloon
of their choice.
83. Presidential Flash Cards (Beth Nielson)
Have students prepare sets of U.S. Presidents flash
cards. Each set should have the president s name on the
front, and a list of significant events from that president s
term of office. Students work in pairs reviewing the overall
course of U.S. history through flash card drills.
84. History Relay (Malina West)
Divide the class into groups of three or four, giving
the first person in each group a baton. The person holding
the baton in each group gets a chance to write down the
answer to a review question. If the person answers
correctly, the baton moves to the next team member. If not,
the baton stays where it is. The first team to complete four
cycles is the winner.
85. Make a game (Malina West)
Divide the class into equal groups. Each group is to
invent a review game to help prepare for the next test. Each
group then presents the game to the class.
86. Trivia Trapped (Malina West)
Divide the class into two groups, and have each group
take opposite sides of the classroom. The teacher asks a
question of the students on one team. If their answer is
incorrect, one of their players goes to the trap and is
(temporarily) out of the game. If they answer correctly, the
teacher asks a question of the other team. Three correct
answers in a row rescues a trapped player. The game
continues until one side s players have all been trapped.
87. Social Studies Around the World (Malina West)
One student is picked to begin the game. He or she will
stand next to the desk of a classmate. A question is asked
of the two students. The student who first answers correctly
moves to the next desk. The other student remains
seated/takes the vacated seat. The student who makes it back
to his or her original desk first wins the game.
88. Panel of Experts (Brian Allmendinger)
Divide the students into teams or panels. Ask a
preliminary question. The first team to answer correctly
sits in front of the class as the designated expert panel.
Each team then asks the panel a question related to the
assigned reading. The panel then has one minute to come up
with the correct responses. If the panel does not answer
correctly, the team who asked the question that stumped the
panel automatically becomes the new panel of experts.
(Note: I like this game as an introductory activity as well
as a review activity. Allow the non-experts to use the
textbook for their questions. This gets all students
searching through the book for unfamiliar facts.)
89. Team Worksheets (Kelly Hanson)
Split the class into teams. Give the first person on
each team a worksheet. On the command go, that person
answers any question on the worksheet. They then pass the
worksheet on to the next player in the group who answers any
of the remaining question. Continue to pass the worksheets
around for 5-10 minutes. The team with the most correct
answers is the winner.
90. Pass the Pen (Lori Stulken)
Divide the students into two groups. Each group forms a
circle around one person. The person in the middle hands a
pen to someone in the circle. This student (the questioner)
names a date, person, or event from the chapter being
studied, then begins passing the pen around the circle. The
student in the center must give one correct fact about that
date, person, or event before the pen gets back to the
questioner. If the student answers correctly and in time,
the questioner must take his/her place in the center of the
When playing games, it's often nice to have some small
reward for the winner. Some teachers award a few extra
credit points for the winner of a game. I occasionally use
pieces of penny candy as an immediate reward to anyone who
gets a right answer (and sometimes even for those who try to
get the answer right). Another trick is to use slightly
altered play money or funny coupons.
When I want to give a somewhat more desirable reward, I
have often had help from local businesses. When I lived in
California, I could always get Student of the Week and
Citizen of the Week certificates from Carl's Jr., one of the
major fast-food chains. These certificates came with a
coupon for a free "Happy Star" meal (hamburger, fries, and
pop). Here in South Dakota, I've been able to get Pizza Hut,
Wendy's, Taco John's, Dairy Queen, McDonald's, Subway, and
Baskin Robbins to provide merchandise coupons for use as
One word of caution. Competitive games, while fun at
first, can get old pretty fast, particularly for those
students who aren't the one's getting the right answers.
Also, such games tend to overemphasize facts while failing to
deal with broader historical/social science themes. There
are other kinds of games that get more at the heart of what
history and the social sciences are really about, e.g. the
theater games described in the next chapter.
Rat Burger and play money go here.
CLASSROOMS FULL OF STARS:
THEATER GAMES IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
In my undergraduate acting classes, we spent most of our
time playing theater games. For the most part, I hated it.
The games didn't seem to help my acting at all. Further, the
games seemed designed primarily to embarrass people, and I
felt uncomfortable most of the time.
After graduation, I started teaching my own classes.
And what method was at the top of my list? Theater games!
But not the same type of games that had made me feel so
uncomfortable, and which I had felt had no purpose. Instead,
I tried to use theater games to build up my students, to give
them confidence, to turn them into stars.
Now the first thing a star needs is energy, and lots of
it. I get this energy through a process I call "IONizing"
the class. In science, the word ion is used to describe a
charged particle, an atom that has gained or lost an
electron. This means that an ion has a positive or negative
charge, and therefore is more highly reactive than an
In the theater, we go through a process of ionization
too, a process that makes us able to better react with one
another. Our ionization, however, is not achieved by losing
an electron. Instead, the ionization process involves
cooperatION, concentratION, justificatION, motivatION, and
In developing effective theater games, it is important
to move through each of these steps slowly. Build student
confidence by giving them easy tasks that they know they can
do before asking them to try harder things. I have several
times made the mistake of trying to push new actors too fast,
and the result is that they become shy and hesitant. Also,
try to remove all pressure to "perform." Let a student know
he or she can simply pass anytime he can't think of anything
Cooperation, the ability to work together, is an
absolute must for effective theater games. The first thing I
tell my students is that, though the activities we are doing
are often noisy, I must be able to get their immediate
attentION whenever I need it. I tell them to pretend to be
noisy third graders, but that when I call ATTENTION they are
to look right at me and be completely silent.
The next cooperative skill necessary is to be in the
right place at the right time. I have three commands for
students: STAGE FRONT, SEATS, and POSITIONS. Whenever I call
one of these things, they must immediately go where they are
The important point here is not so much that students
learn to respond to the ATTENTION and POSITION commands, but
that they gain confidence in being able to do something
theater-related. If one adds additional skills slowly, one
can avoid entirely the "I can't do it" response that kills
The last cooperation exercise I use is the emotional
symphony. I divide the class into groups, giving each group
a different sound to make. I choose a conductor, whose job
it is to coordinate the sounds the groups make. If he points
to a group, it must start making its sound. If he raises his
hand, the sound has to get louder. If he lowers his hand,
the sound is quieter. He can have all the groups making
their sounds at once, or bring them in one at a time.
Notice again the slow confidence building process. Many
students would be a bit shy if asked to quack like a duck in
front of the class. But if their whole group is quacking,
it's not so hard.
The next important theater skill is concentration. I
bring to class a number of interesting objects, passing them
around the class one at a time. I ask each person to say
something different about the object, telling them to
concentrate on the object, not on anything going on around
them. At this point, I tell them Dr. Art's guaranteed, never
fail preventative for stage fright: concentrate fully on
what's happening on stage and ignore the audience completely.
Imagination is the next essential theater skill I teach.
To help develop students' imaginations, I play a similar
game to the concentration exercise above. I pass around the
same kind of object, but this time asking the students to say
not what it is, but what it might be.
Combining the concentration game with its imagination
variant is an activity of real value in actually teaching
social science concepts. It's amazing what one's students
can figure out about a society by concentrating closely on
one artifact and using their imaginations to figure out why
the object has the characteristics it does. Northern's Dr.
David Grettler is particularly good at showing students how
much one can learn from close observation. He uses in his
classes everything from stone age tools, to pipe stems, to
fractured bones, to cans of Coke, to Chesapeake Bay water in
helping students to discover for themselves characteristics
of the economy, values, and beliefs of the people they are
studying. In my own classes, I do a similar thing using
slides. For example, by having students examine closely some
slides of Egyptian tomb paintings, I get them to discover a
great many things about Egyptian agriculture, technology,
life-style, religious beliefs, and aesthetics--and they often
discover things I myself have overlooked.
Other useful concentration and imagination activities
include having the students describe in detail (not
forgetting smells and sounds) some past event in their own
lives, having students list as many of the details as they
can about some historical figure or event, and having
students describe in detail a scene that has been acted out
in front of them. Such exercises are particularly good for
raising questions about historical epistemology.
The most important key to developing effective theater
games is to get your students to concentrate on the
motivation of the characters they portray. Try to convince
them that the important thing is not the character's voice,
not the character's costume, not the character's mannerisms,
but what the character wants. Teach them that each character
in the scene must have a strong motivation, and that the
motivations of the characters must conflict in some way.
Stress that, when on stage, you concentrate solely on getting
the thing that your character wants. When you get it, or
when there is no more chance of your getting it, then the
scene is over. Stress also that the thing that makes scenes
work is conflict. Remind them over and over that WITHOUT A
CONFLICT, THE SCENE WON'T WORK. This is a hard idea to get
through students' heads, but once you succeed, you'll get
some wonderful scenes.
Beginning-line improvisations are great for helping
students learn to establish conflicts on stage. Divide
students into groups of two or three. Give the students a
beginning line. Tell them they must show on stage a conflict
that features that line. Once the conflict is established,
i.e. once the audience sees clearly what the dispute is
about, they are done. Give them a short time to talk about
what they are going to do, then have each group present its
conflict to the class.
I've found the following particularly good "beginning
lines" for new actors.
a. I can't do it. Never in a million years.
b. All right. I'm not saying another word.
c. I love history.
Once students can establish conflicts on stage, they are
ready to go on to complete improvised scenes. Point out to
them that what makes a scene more interesting is
complications, extra things that get in the way of the
character getting what he/she wants. To teach the art of
creating complications, I like to use chain improvisations.
In a chain improv, two actors start the scene. Additional
actors, each with their own strong motivation, enter one at a
time, each one further complicating the scene.
Here is a typical set of instructions for a chain
1. You're a part-time musician who would like to be
full time. You've just found this great deal on a
guitar and amplifier--and you're convinced that this
equipment would give you the sound you need to really
make it as a musician. You must convince your wife to
let you buy the amp and guitar--but it's got to be done
right now. The guy who owns the equipment is going to
sell it to someone else if you don't make a decision
2. Your husband has really been running up the
bills lately. To make matters worse, he hasn't been
working steady. Your dad has promised you he'll get
your husband a decent job working at an electronics
factory. Your goal is to convince your husband to stop
buying things on credit and to take the job your dad
wants to give him.
3. You're the drummer of a rock band. Actor #1 is
your lead guitar player. Rehearsal was supposed to
start an hour ago. Your job is to get #1 out of the
house and to rehearsal.
4. You're the apartment manager. This couple
hasn't paid the rent in two months. You want the rent
paid or them out of the apartment--immediately.
5. You're actress number one's best friend. You
need her to baby sit for you right now. Your regular
sitter just called in sick, and you can't find anyone
else. You're supposed to be at work in 20 minutes, and
if you're late again you're going to get fired.
6. You're actress number one's father. You have a
job in your electronics factory for her husband, but you
have to get the position filled now. You want to know
if he's going to take the job or not tonight.
7. You're a police officer. The neighbors have
been complaining about the noise. Get these people to
Once students can do a chain improvisation, they really
only need one more thing to make their scenes effective, a
good way of finishing up and resolving the conflicts they've
established. A good way of teaching students how to do this
is to give them a set of end-line improvisations.
End-line improvs are just like beginning line improvs,
except that the student is given the final line rather than
the initial line. Remind students that their characters
still must have strong motivations, that THERE MUST BE A
CONFLICT, and that complications make the scene more
interesting. With the "end line" to shoot at for a
conclusion, students almost always figure out how to resolve
The following are useful end-lines:
a. I'm sure glad I voted.
b. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
c. All's fair in love and war.
d. In a tomb in Egypt.
e. Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.
Once students know how to establish a conflict, add
complications, and resolve a scene, they can create effective
improvs around anything. They can do object improvs (where
the conflict is developed around some interesting object),
position improvs (where the conflict is suggested by the
initial position of the actors on stage) and action improvs
(where the conflict arises from an action of one of the
Watching students present improvs has been more fun than
anything else I've ever done in the classroom. Once they get
good at it, students themselves far prefer theater games to
lectures or discussions. But is it legitimate to spend
classroom time doing these sorts of games when one is
supposed to be teaching social studies? The answer is
Theater games need characters with strong motivations, some
sort of conflict, complications, and an eventual resolution to
the conflict. They are made more interesting when the characters
themselves have unique or at least unusual personalities.
These are the same elements that make for good history. Not
names and dates, but historical figures with strong motivations
coming into conflict with one another and attempting to resolve
these conflicts as best they can--this is what makes up history.
Essential also is the exploration of how individual personality
traits affect these conflicts.
The great historians and the great dramatists work alike.
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Henry IV, and Richard III are
outstanding as history as well as outstanding theater.
Thucydides' Peloponnesian War follows the same structural and
thematic principles as the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and
Euripides. Clearly, we should be able to teach history and the
other social sciences through theater games. The trick is to
figure out how.
One good way is to use theater games for historical problem
solving. Have students use real historical issues as the basic
conflicts in their scenes. They might do this by depicting
imagined meetings of famous historical figures (Lincoln and
Jefferson Davis, Thomas Becket and Henry II, Charles V and Martin
Luther) or by featuring typical figures of the time period (a
manorial Lord and his peasants, a follower of Mohammed and a
follower of Zoroaster, a publican and a Pharisee).
Students might also develop interesting scenes featuring
unlikely or impossible combinations of characters (The Apostle
Peter and Pope Alexander VI, Dennis Banks and Christopher
Columbus, Bill Clinton and John Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and
Eleanor Roosevelt.) Also potentially useful is the historical
trial. Students who know enough about the subjects might be able
to create very effective scenes putting Carrie Nation, Harry
Truman, or George Washington on trial.
Probably the easiest area to use theater games is in
exploring contemporary issues. Students are almost certain to be
able to develop good scenes around themes like gambling, crime,
drug and alcohol abuse, abortion, health care, sexual harassment,
women in the military, or religion in the schools.
In most cases, however, students will never be able to come
up with productive social science scenes unless you give them
quite a bit of information on the subject they will be depicting.
Most probably, you're going to have to lecture to them first.
Dull, old, boring lectures? No, wonderful, exciting, interesting
and important lectures, lectures almost as much fun as the best
of theater games. But is there such a thing? Can lectures be
wonderful and exciting? Yes--as you will see in our next
wonderful and exciting chapter.
HERODOTUS HAD IT RIGHT:
FROM LECTURER TO STORYTELLER
Do you remember the first time you had to give an oral
report or a speech in school? It was probably one of the
hardest things you ever did! Speaking in public is one of the
greatest fears of many people, and relatively few find
themselves comfortable standing up and speaking before a group
for even a few minutes.
You are about to enter a profession which may require you
to make fifty minute public speeches five or six times a day
for the next thirty or forty years. What are you, some kind of
Also, do you remember listening to the speeches of your
fellow classmates? There's no place that time seems to go more
slowly than in a high school speech tournament--unless it s the
average history lecture class.
You are about to enter a profession where people are
forced to listen to you drone on for fifty minutes a day, five
days a week, about stuff they probably don't care about. And
you're going to do this for the next thirty of forty years.
What are you, some kind of sadist?
There really is something strange about this whole lecture
business. The prominence of lectures in our educational system
is something of an accident. Lectures are (in some ways) a
slow and inefficient way of communicating material--not nearly
as effective as books. The lecture approach to learning begin
to dominate only in the Middle Ages when books were expensive
and rare. Because students could not afford their own copies
of books, instructors would read to them while they took notes.
In many English universities, professors are still called
"readers," a reminder that their original job called on them
largely to read to their students.
The educational establishment of today is dead set against
lectures. Most methods classes suggest that discussions,
computerized instruction, interactive video, and various
cooperative learning techniques are all much superior to
lectures. Prospective teachers are constantly reminded of the
supposed student view "What I hear, I forget; what I see, I
remember; what I do I understand."
But despite the fact that educators disapprove of it, the
lecture is one of the best teaching methods--when done the
The problem is that it is so easy to learn how to do
lectures wrong. When one talks for a living long enough,
talking at length on any subject in the world becomes easy and
automatic. One can speak for fifty minutes without any effort
at all, without even thinking about what one is saying, and
even without anything worth saying or worth listening to.
The tendency to talk on and on without really saying
anything is one of the greatest occupational hazards of
pastors, teachers, and university professors (not to mention
politicians) and, in order to avoid it, one must be constantly
on guard. The book of Job warns against those who "darkeneth
council by words without wisdom," while Proverbs notes that "In
the multitude of words there wanteth not sin." An old Sumerian
proverb reminds those of us who talk too much that it is "into
the open mouth, the fly enters."
But while there are times when silence is the most
appropriate behavior, there are other times when the right
words are important. "A word fitly spoken is like apples of
gold in pictures of silver." But how are our words to be fitly
spoken? How do we make sure our lectures are worth giving and
KEYS TO AN EFFECTIVE LECTURE:
1. Make sure your lecture has a clear purpose.
2. Make sure your lecture has a clear, logical structure.
3. Keep students minds engaged.
worth listening to?
First of all, for a lecture to be effective, it must have
a clear purpose. This is fairly easy if you've planned your
curriculum well. For example, suppose you have chosen as your
theme for a course in U.S. history the motto "E pluribus unum,"
emphasizing America's attempt throughout her history to get
different kinds of people to work together as one united
nation. Individual lectures can easily be related to this
theme. The contrasting stories of the initial settlements at
Jamestown and Plymouth, for instance, can be presented as an
illustration of how vital cooperation of very different kinds
of people was from the beginning of U.S. history--and how
difficult it was to achieve. The moral of the story is obvious
enough, and applicable enough to life in America today to make
the lecture relevant and to keep your students' interest.
A second essential for an effective lecture is a clear,
logical structure. Aristotle, who had a remarkable talent for
stating the obvious, said that a good story should have a
beginning, a middle and... well, you know the third element
without my stating it explicitly. Why? Because it follows a
Patterned information is far easier to remember than
information not in a pattern. Spend a few minutes trying to
memorize the following number sequence (pi to twelve decimal
places): 3 1 4 1 5 9 2 6 5 3 5 8 9. It's not at all easy.
Further, even if you do memorize the sequence, it's unlikely
that you'll retain it for any length of time.
Now consider the phrase "See, I have a rhyme assisting/ my
feeble brain its tasks oft-times resisting." Poor poetry,
perhaps, but once you've memorized this bit of doggerel you
know the first twelve places of pi. Count the number of
letters in each word and you've got it.
Why is it so much easier for most people to learn the
digits of pi in such a way? Simply because the poem, bad as it
is, at least has a pattern, and our minds are so constructed
that patterned information is easier for us.
Most people who speak for a living are well aware of the
importance of such patterns. Pastors, for instance, typically
employee "three point" or "five point" sermons, knowing that
their congregations are much more likely to remember the
material in such a form.
At one time, listeners could handle very complex patterns
of organization. Cicero and Thucydides could reproduce with
great accuracy (sometimes even word for word) speeches that
they had heard weeks and years before. The reason was that, as
part of their education, students in ancient Greece and Rome
learned some basic rhetorical patterns. One important pattern
used widely in the ancient world was inverted parallel
structure, a pattern where the speaker addresses a number of
different points in one order, and then addresses the same
points in reverse order (A B C D E E D C B A). Of course, by
the time the speaker was a little more than halfway through,
the audience knew exactly where he was going in the rest of his
Today's students are not trained to follow such patterns,
and if one wants to employ a structure any more sophisticated
than that of the three point sermon, one almost has to provide
Providing a class with a fairly detailed outline of
exactly what you intend to cover helps the students understand
the material better and stay focussed on the overall theme of
the lecture. It is usually not good, however, to give the
students Xeroxed or dittoed outlines.14 Instead, it is best to
have them copy an outline from the board or from an overhead,
adding to the outline details that seem to them particularly
Most teachers find that students tend to remember material
far better when they go to the extra effort of copying the
The ability to take good notes is an important skill for
your students to develop, one they will certainly need in
college. Many students, however, gain almost no experience in
note taking in their high school classes. Insist that your
students learn to take notes. Check their notes to be sure
they are doing a good job. Remind them you are doing them a
favor, teaching them a skill they will certainly need.15
A third essential for an effective lecture is to keep
students' minds engaged. A lecture full of the best material
in the world is no good if students aren't listening--and even
if they're listening, it's not good if their minds aren't
actively involved. So how do we get students' minds on our
KEYS FOR KEEPING STUDENTS' MINDS ENGAGED:
It is difficult to decide whether to recommend the use of
overhead projectors or chalk boards for lecture outlines. The
overhead has many advantages: you can prepare the notes in
advance, you can save your notes for use in future lectures, you
can make your notes more legible, and you can more easily
incorporate maps, charts, diagrams, cartoons, etc. But the
overhead has some great disadvantages too. Number one, it shifts
the focus of attention from the instructor to the projection, not
usually a good idea. Also, like almost any audio-visual aid,
overhead projections tend to have a soporific effect on the
class. But maybe with a class of hyper eighth graders . . .
1. Use a good "hook."
2. Ask frequent questions.
3. Assume the persona of historical characters (role play).
4. Design tests to encourage mastery of the overall picture.
5. Use plenty of energy.
6. Include the whole class.
7. Use visual aids.
8. Use analogies to student experience.
9. Use humor.
10. Assume the role of a storyteller..
Obviously, before trying to keep students' minds engaged,
one needs to have their attention in the first place, and so
the first step is to come up with a way of capturing their
attention, what public speaking teachers call a "hook."
Now there are several types of hooks. One is the
"gimmick" hook. Gimmick hooks are easy enough to come up with.
Anything loud, radical, violent, or out of the ordinary will
do. Shoot off a starter's pistol. Beat on a drum. Come into
class screaming, "It's over! It's over! It's over! Dress up
as a Civil War soldier or as Socrates.
Gimmick hooks are great and a lot of fun. But there is
one problem with gimmick hooks: they get the students'
attention temporarily, but lose it again as soon as the gimmick
is over or its novelty wears off.
Another type of hook is the personal hook. Beginning your
class with a story about yourself is often an extremely
effective way of getting attention. I talk to my classes about
my wife and kids, my own experiences in high school and
college, getting a traffic ticket, my horrible 20th high school
reunion--both the painful and joyful events of my life.
Whenever I talk about such things, they are even more attentive
Personal hooks are also great and a lot of fun. But there
is a problem with personal hooks: they too get students'
attention temporarily, but lose it again as soon as one turns
away from personal events to talking about the actual subject
matter of the day.
The only hook that really works is the intellectual hook.
The intellectual hook involves raising some question in the
students' minds that they might really like to see answered.
Then one has to somehow show that the topic you are going to
address might at least partially answer that question.
Coming up with such a hook is hard, and to develop a good
intellectual hook usually depends on knowing a great deal about
what your students actually think about and care about.16 Even
then, it's not always easy to figure out how to relate your
students' interest to the topic you want to discuss. It
sometimes takes me hours to come up with the "hooks" for my
lectures. Nevertheless, it is time well spent. Once I get a
really good start to a lecture, I find that the rest of the
Relating to students superficial concerns (tonight's
dance or finishing their homework for algebra) isn't what I mean
here. In a social science class, it's important to address their
deeper concerns: justice, love, religion. And yes, students do
care about such things. I find that students are generally
interested enough in the struggle between good and evil that they
will pay close attention to any story where these two forces are
at work and in which the outcome is unclear. Love stories are
even better, and religious tales are not far behind. But, of
course, those who dominate our educational institutions and write
our history texts don't believe in good and evil anymore. Love
for them is simply an illusion evolved by our species to aid in
survival. They consider it a violation of the sacred principle
of separation of church and state to talk about God. No wonder
so much of our "history" is boring.
lecture almost writes itself.
After you get your students' attention, the next job is to
keep it. One way is to ask questions of the students in
intervals throughout your lecture. For instance, when I
discuss the ways in which Egyptian society provided physical
security to its members, I begin by asking the students to
suggest different things that are needed to ensure physical
security and different ways these things might be provided.
The possibility of being asked a question at any time during
the lecture encourages students to stay alert and involved.
It is particularly effective to ask students anticipatory
questions, questions like "What would you do in these
circumstances?" These kinds of questions don't require
specific factual information, but they do require the student
to think about different possible courses of action: in other
words, to think historically.
Note that when one asks anticipatory-type questions any
student answer helps, even a "wrong" answer, i.e. a suggested
course of action not actually taken by the historical figures
involved. "Wrong" answers help students to see different
possible courses history might have taken and help remove the
"fate" fallacy from their study of history.
Notice also that asking questions may end up turning your
lecture into a discussion--but a superior kind of discussion,
one well directed and focussed and backed up with specific
information. Students suggest possible courses of action,
while you supply the data which confirms their suggestion or
explains why events followed another course.
Another way of maintaining student attention is to act the
part of historical characters during your lecture. To do this
doesn't require any great dramatic skill. Simply adding
dramatic emphasis to something like King Henry's outburst when
thwarted by Thomas Becket ("What a pack of fools and knaves I
have reared in my house that not one of them will avenge me of
this turbulent priest!") adds a lot to a lecture. But even
more effective is to simply interact with your class as if you
were a historical figure and they were people living at the
same time. For instance, in explaining the Egyptian Book of
the Dead to my students, I temporarily assume the persona of an
Egyptian priest, and then play out the following scene:
DR. ART: You're a pretty good person, aren't you.
STUDENT: Oh yes.
DR. ART: You're pretty sure that, when you die, you're
going to go to the good kingdom of Osirus,
STUDENT: Of course.
DR. ART: But tell me honestly now, when you stand before
the jackal-headed god Anubis on Judgment Day, is
there anything you might be a little worried
about? One or two little things you've done
wrong that just might cause a bit of concern?
STUDENT: Well. . .
DR. ART: Now it would be a real shame if a good person
like you ended up in hell just because of a few
mistakes, wouldn't it.
STUDENT: I guess so.
DR. ART: Look, I just happen to be a priest of Osirus,
and I have with me a very special book. If
you're buried with this book, it'll make sure
you get past Anubis into the good kingdom of
Osirus, and the few little things you've done
wrong won't make any difference. And I can give
you the book real cheap--say, five bushels of
STUDENT: Sounds great.
DR. ART: (to class as a whole) Now I know that some of
you aren't nearly as good as old Student One
here, but it doesn't matter. This book is so
powerful, it will guarantee that anyone can get
into Osirus' kingdom, no matter what you've
done. Now you've got a choice. You can get
into the kingdom of Osirus the old fashioned way
by leading a good life and never doing anything
wrong, or you can buy a copy of the book from
me. What will it be?
DR. ART: (to another student) Lead a good life or buy the
STUDENT 2: I'll buy the book.
DR. ART: (to another student) A good life or buy the
STUDENT 3: The book.
DR. ART: (to another student): A good life or the book?
STUDENT 4: I'll lead . . . No, I'll buy the book.
The whole scene takes no longer than it would to explain
The Book of the Dead in traditional lecture format. Students
are fully engaged in the class during the presentation, and
they continue to pay attention to what follows. Also, I find
that at test time my students almost always remember what the
Book of the Dead was and why it contributed to a breakdown of
morality in New Kingdom Egypt. And speaking of tests...
One important way of making sure students stay alert is to
design tests that encourage students to master the whole
structure of an argument rather than isolated facts. You've
all noticed that whenever a teacher says "this might be on the
test," every pen in the class begins to move. Make it clear
that everything you say in class might be useful on the test--
or when they're standing before Anubis on Judgement Day.
Another key to maintaining student interest is to use
plenty of energy. If you're obviously excited and enthusiastic
about your material, students will be more likely to pay
attention and perhaps be a bit excited about it themselves.
Northern's geography professor (Dr. David Grettler) is
constantly saying things like, "This is really cool" when he
introduces a new topic--and his whole manner convinces students
that it is. They always stay awake in that class. A warning,
though: never dress up a dull lecture by feigning excitement.
To do so is like calling wolf when there is no wolf--and when
you're really excited students won't be.
Another warning: energy is not simply volume and a lot of
movement. Any good actor knows how to stand still as a post
and almost whisper his words and yet give an impression of
power and energy.
A third warning: movement must be directed. It adds
variety and interest to your lecture to move away from the
podium, but move somewhere specific. Move to the chalkboard,
to a map, to the students on one side of the room, to the
students on the other. Don't simply pace back and forth. Many
students find it very annoying.
Maintaining student interest is easier if one constantly
attempts to include the whole class, not just a few "good"
students. One way to do this is to ask "group" questions,
where the whole class is asked to respond in unison. For
instance, my introductory history lecture usually includes
something like the following exchange:
DR. ART: History is the most wonderful, most exciting,
most important, and most interesting of all
DR. ART: No, No. Remember, I am unfair. Your grade is
in my hands. You'll have to take this class
again if I don't pass you. Now, let's try
again. History is the most wonderful, most
exciting, most important, and most interesting
of all subjects, right?
CLASS: (With a shout) RIGHT!!!!
There are times when eliciting such a group response is by
far the most appropriate way of handling the subject at hand.
The Spartan assembly, for instance, voted by shouting (the side
shouting the loudest winning the vote), and there is no better
way of demonstrating the advantages of the Spartan system than
to put a few typical questions before the "Spartans" in your
The use of appropriate visual aids can also help maintain
student interest in your lecture. Maps, charts, historical
artifacts, and slides can all be useful. The "object lesson"
approach often used in Sunday school classes can also work very
well in a history lecture. But the best visual aid of all is
the student. Arranging your students in historical tableaux
(Henry IV at Canossa, the assassination of Julius Caesar, etc.)
provides a memorable reinforcement of the event discussed.
I also like the invisible visual aid. With only a very
little skill at mime, you can make your students "see" objects
far more elaborate than you could ever actually have in the
classroom. One of my favorite uses of an invisible visual aid
is in discussing the French Encyclopedia's article on fencing.
This article gives the advice that one should "never make a
thrust without being prepared to parry," and has an
illustration showing what would happen if you ignored this
advice. I have one of my students come up to help me recreate
the illustration. I hand him a "sword" (invisible, of course,
but students are remarkably good at making each other see these
invisible swords.) I take my own sword in hand and make my
thrust at the student's head--but without, alas, being ready to
parry. The student ducks (usually) and thrusts his own sword
exactly where you would expect. Freeze. The students'
imaginations do the rest. (Although some of them, I suppose,
wish the swords were real.)
Another way of getting and maintaining student interest is
to use frequent analogies to students' own experiences. One of
my former methods students, Ken VanderVorst, was particularly
adept at finding such analogies.
Ken began one of his presentations by discussing a
hypothetical high school football team. He described the team
as a talented team, but one that, during the course of the
season, began to run into problem after problem. The coach
couldn't decide what offense he wanted to use, and wouldn't let
the team run its most effective plays in games. The local
paper, upbeat at first, became more and more negative,
constantly criticizing the team and the coach. The fans soon
found it fun to put down the football players and make fun of
them. When injured team members came off the field, the
hometown fans booed them and spit on them. Even the
cheerleaders started leading cheers for the other team. This,
said Ken, is the story of the U.S. effort in Vietnam.
Such an analogy, whether you agree with it or not, is
exceedingly powerful. Everyone in the class was not only
attentive, but eager to hear what was coming next.
Of all ways of keeping students' attention, one of the
best is the use of humor. That, of course, is why I spent so
much time on humor in Chapter IV, which I'm sure you have by
The best way of all, however, for keeping students'
attention is to turn yourself into a storyteller. Students may
be bored during lectures, but almost no one is bored when
listening to a story.
But does history lend itself to story telling? Of course
it does. All of the older histories (those of Herodotus,
Thucydides, Tacitus and Livy--not to mention I and II Samuel
and I and II Maccabees) are filled with fascinating stories,
and I get great responses from my students by simply retelling
the stories of the important historians from the time of
Herodotus to the time of Voltaire and Gibbon. It's only the
modern "professional" historians who have forgotten how to
write interesting stuff--and whose books, with good reason, are
read only by other historians and unlucky undergraduates.
So how do you get your material into story form? Many of
you in your English classes studied what are called the five
narrative essentials: plot, character, theme, setting, and
tone. These characteristics of good story writing also are the
characteristics of a good lecture.
Writing a plot involves arranging the different elements
of the story in such a way as to be attractive to readers.
Generally, a good plot has at its heart an important conflict,
a conflict interesting enough to grab the readers' attention
from the opening moments of the story17. Complicating
incidents build the tension, until finally toward the end of
the story there is a climax where the conflict is finally
resolved. There usually follows a short denouement in which
the author ties up any loose ends.
Political history lends itself especially easily to such
arrangement of material, but it's certainly possible to put
social and cultural history into this form as well. Identify
and introduce a central conflict (slavery, women's rights,
etc.) and follow that conflict through increasing complications
until the conflict is, at least temporarily, resolved.
Many philosophies of history (e.g. those of Toynbee,
Spengler, Vico, Hegel, and Marx) provide well-thought-out
models of conflict, complication, and ultimate resolution in
the affairs of nations and civilizations. Unfortunately, few
history majors get much training in philosophy of history as
undergraduates. I recommend strongly spending some time
In fiction, the central conflict of a story is frequently
introduced through what is called an "initial incident," some
event that gives the protagonist a problem to solve and leads
naturally into the rest of the story. Selection of a good
"initial incident" also helps with historical story telling and
is an excellent way of "hooking" students' attention. Some
English teachers point out four typical types of conflict in most
fiction: man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself, and man
vs. the supernatural. Historical conflicts are usually presented
as man vs. man type conflicts, but the other three are worth
considering. Herodotus' presentation of historical events as
conflicts between man and fate or man and nemesis (versions of
the man vs. supernatural conflict) work extremely well.
investigating this area on your own.
Most stories have a clear protagonist, a character who is
attempting to resolve the central conflict of the story and
with whom the reader is supposed to identify. In general, if
the readers don't care about the protagonist, the story will be
In historical conflicts, it's usually easy to pick out a
protagonist or, more frequently, a group of protagonists. What
isn't always quite so easy is to ensure students' sympathy for
When writing fiction, sympathy for the protagonist can be
achieved in several ways. Readers tend to sympathize most with
characters who are in some ways like themselves. They also
tend to sympathize with those who have been victims of
injustice. But the easiest way to gain a reader's sympathy for
a character is simply to tell the story from that character's
point of view. Readers almost automatically identify most with
the character whose point of view the author uses most. This
is reinforced when that character is the first one introduced
in the narrative.
The same techniques work when trying to elicit student
sympathy and interest in historical figures. Show the students
how those characters are in some ways like themselves. Show
how these figures were victims of injustice. Most important,
choose carefully a point of view that most naturally encourages
students to identify with the appropriate figures.
Note that the very best authors are those who master
multiple points of view. Homer,
for instance, makes you identify
with all his characters, both
Greek and Trojan. In historical
story telling too, it is often
very effective to use multiple
points of view, e.g. presenting
the story of the events leading
to the American Civil War from
both the Northern and Southern
"Theme" refers both to the subject matter of a story and
to the author's message. It is theme, as much as anything
else, that separates great literature from mind candy. Great
literature entertains, but it also teaches. So does a good
history lecture. A good lecture should have at its core some
lesson about life. It should reveal something about a too-
little understood aspect of human nature, demonstrate the
consequences of certain types of behavior, or help the reader
better understand man and his place in the universe. Francis
Bacon said that the study of history makes one wise--and if it
doesn't, why bother? It certainly doesn't make us rich!
One of the things many readers like best about a story is
the place it creates in their minds. Shakespeare's Forest of
Arden, Tolkien's Middle Earth, and Kipling's Indian jungle are
magical places, places readers want to be, at least in their
imaginations. There is no frigate like a book... unless it's
a good history lecture! We have an enormous number of
interesting locales for our students to visit from the comfort
(?) of their school desks.
Prof. Bill Bowsky likes to begin his lectures on Medieval
history with the old T.V. line, "Return with us now to those
thrilling days of yester-year..." A great introduction, and
exactly what we should be asking our students to do! Set the
scene: describe for your students the sights, sounds, and
aromas that provide the background to the events you describe.
Tone is the trickiest of the narrative essentials for
students to understand and identify, but it is still a key to
effective story telling and to effective lectures. Tone tells
the readers how you want them to react to your words: whether
you want them to laugh or to cry, to be angry or to be glad.
Establishing the tone you want is difficult in written
English, but when giving a lecture it's easy. Most students
can discern the tone of the lecture with nothing more than
facial expressions and tone of voice to go on. As a result,
one can freely change tone back and forth during a lecture, an
exceptionally effective technique in keeping students
interested and alert. A swing from humor to dead seriousness
can really drive home a point.18
Changing diction works well too. While in written work a
All of the above may seem complicated and difficult, but
there is a short cut. We are exposed to story telling so much,
and we tell so many stories in everyday conversation that most
of us have the art of story telling already. The trick is to
The key here, it seems to me, is simply attitude, the way
we look at what we are doing when we address our students. If
we can enjoy talking about history in the same way we enjoy
telling our friends about the interesting things that happened
on our last vacation, and if we are as excited about history as
about the victory of our favorite basketball team, we can
transform our lectures into what they ought to be, the most
exciting stories ever told.
HOW TO GET FROM CHICAGO TO NEW YORK WITHOUT GOING THROUGH
SAN FRANCISCO: LEADING GOOD DISCUSSIONS
In the last exciting chapter, I noted that one of the real
dangers confronting those who make our living as public
speakers is that we get so good at it that we can fill fifty
minutes of lecture without saying anything at all. When
leading a discussion, the danger is even worse. One can easily
develop the skill of getting other people talking and having
such a good time talking to each other that they will easily
fill a fifty minute class--without accomplishing anything at
When I was an undergraduate at Stanford, nearly all of my
classes were seminars. Most of them were fun. Discussion was
usually lively. Students seldom complained. The problem was
that very rarely did we learn anything from the discussions.
Most of the professors didn't seem to care very much. As
long as the conversation was lively, they hardly cared if we
stayed on topic. But there were a few whose seminars were
different--just as much fun, just as lively, just as
interesting--but also tremendous learning experiences.
What makes the difference? How does a teacher make sure
that discussion is an effective teaching method and that time
spent in class discussion is well spent? In general, the keys
to a good discussion are the same as those for an effective
KEYS TO AN EFFECTIVE DISCUSSION:
1. Make sure your discussion has a clear purpose.
2. Make sure your discussion has a clear, logical structure.
3. Keep students' minds engaged.
The Purpose of Discussion
Like a lecture, a discussion should have a clear purpose.
Discussions may be used to address the same types of
objectives as lectures, and it is often a good idea to use both
lecture and discussion formats in addressing the important
themes of your unit. However, discussion generally is most
appropriate when you want your class to make some progress
toward understanding large, open-ended questions. For example,
one of the best seminars I took as an undergraduate dealt with
the question of why few writers after the time of Aeschylus,
Sophocles, and Euripides were able to write truly successful
tragedies. For those of us in the class, all drama majors and
aspiring writers, this was a question we would really have
liked to be able to answer, and having this big question as an
underlying theme kept the whole seminar in tight focus.
One important goal of discussion is to develop students'
skills in analysis and synthesis. Analysis comes from a Greek
word which means to pull apart. Synthesis comes from a Greek
word which means to put together. Questions should be designed
to ask students to do both those things. One generally starts
by pulling apart an issue. What's really at stake here? What
does all this mean? By the conclusion of the discussion,
students should be able to take their new knowledge, combine it
with other things they've learned elsewhere, and use it in
Another goal of discussion is to enhance students'
communication skills. Discussion should be designed to help
them learn to voice their own ideas confidently, to listen to
others with respect, and to work together in gaining a better
understanding of an issue.
Organizing a Discussion
Good discussions require just as much planning as good
lectures, sometimes more. I sometimes find it useful to give
my students a discussion outline every bit as detailed as the
outlines I give them for my lectures. But even with a detailed
plan of exactly what questions one wants to ask and what
direction one wants to go, discussions can easily get off
One job of a discussion leader is to keep steering the
discussion back to the question at hand. This doesn't mean
never allowing a discussion to go off on a tangent for a while,
but it does mean one must constantly try to relate the matters
students bring up to the central question and to try to meld
everything brought up in discussion into a coherent whole.
One of the most important jobs of the discussion leader is
to keep track of what has already been said and to make
frequent reviews of the general course of the discussion up to
that point. Some discussion leaders have good enough memories
that they can keep track of rather complicated arguments in
their heads. For most of us, however, the best way to stay on
target is to use the chalkboard to keep track of the different
points the students make. Keeping track of the students'
contributions on the chalkboard provides important positive
reinforcement. A student whose suggestion is put on the board
knows automatically that the teacher was paying attention to
what he/she said and considered it important.
Some teachers prefer to keep track of the course of
discussion by jotting down notes on paper. This has several
advantages, the most important of which is that the teacher
ends up with a record of what has/has not been covered in
discussion--very useful when preparing/evaluating tests. Also,
if one jots down some notes not only on what was said but who
said it, one gets a much better idea of which students are
participating actively in the class.
Keeping students' minds engaged
Students who major in the social sciences almost always
enjoy talking about history, sociology, psychology,
anthropology and the related disciplines. With a class full of
such students, getting a good discussion going is easy. One
question can lead to a solid hour of profitable discussion.
The average junior/senior high school student doesn't get
involved in discussion so readily. Many are very hesitant to
speak up in class, and most need to be convinced that the
discussion topic at hand is relevant to things they care about.
As a result, the teacher must pay just as much attention to
keeping students' minds engaged during discussion time as
KEYS TO KEEPING STUDENTS MINDS ENGAGED:
1. Use a good hook.
2. Include the whole class in discussion.
3. Make frequent use of small groups.
4. Positively reinforce all student answers.
5. Design tests to encourage mastery of the ideas presented
6. Make sure students are prepared for discussion.
7. Ask the right kind of questions.
Let me say once again that, in order to keep students'
minds engaged, it is important to capture their attention in
the first place. A good discussion needs the same kind of hook
as a good lecture, something that will make the students forget
about their other concerns and think about what's going on in
Secondly, it's important to include the whole class in
discussion. Most classes have two or three students who will
respond to almost any question and who enjoy elaborating on the
themes brought up for discussion. It's very easy for a teacher
to think that a discussion went well because these few students
had a lot to say and there was no "dead" time. But if the rest
of the class made no contributions and paid no attention,
discussion time was something of a waste.
One excellent way of encouraging a greater percentage of
students to participate in discussion is to break up the class
into small groups (groups of three or four work best). Have
each group discuss some of the discussion questions on their
own, then bring the groups back together to report on what they
came up with. While organizing a discussion in this way takes
extra time, it almost always ensures a far higher percentage of
students participating actively in discussion.
Another important way of keeping students' minds engaged
is to positively reinforce all student answers. Most students
are hungry for recognition, and if their answers are commended
in some way in front of their peers, they are more likely to
want to respond to further questions.
Be very careful not to make a student feel foolish for
suggesting a wrong answer. Let the students know that you are
grateful for their responses even when their answers aren't
right. Preface your answer by saying something like, "Well,
that's a good suggestion, but..."
Another way of making sure students pay attention to
discussion is to design questions that encourage them to master
both sides of an issue, and let them know in advance what these
questions are likely to be. Suppose, for instance, one were
leading a class discussion on abortion. A good question might
be something like the following:
Abortion is without a doubt one of the most troubling
ethical issues facing American society today. Both sides
of the debate have produced extensive arguments showing
that their position is the "moral" one, but neither side
seems able to convince the other. Why? Why are those
opposed to abortion certain that they are right? Why are
those in favor of abortion so certain they are right? Do
you think it possible that there will ever be a consensus
on abortion in America?
This question requires students to master both sides of
the abortion debate. Those who are in favor of abortion must
listen to and remember the arguments of those who are against
it if they are to have an adequate answer to the question, just
as those who are against abortion must listen to and remember
the arguments of those who favor it.
Another key in keeping students' minds engaged is to make
sure they are properly prepared for discussion. If they are
going to be discussing a particular author's work, it's vital
that they've actually done their reading! Giving the students
study questions in advance helps a lot, but usually the only
way to be sure most students will read an assignment is to give
them a quiz on the reading at the beginning of the class period
for which it is assigned.
Ask the Right Kind of Questions
Probably the most important key in keeping students' minds
engaged is to ask good questions, questions the students will
want to answer. Unfortunately, it is hard to tell exactly what
type of question is going to work with any particular class.
Students tend not to answer questions that are too easy ("When
did Columbus discover America?"). Only a few students like the
"Trivial Pursuit" type question ("What name did Confederates
give the Battle of Bull Run?"). Far better is a question that
asks the students to figure out a puzzle ("Why did geographers
of the late 15th century--say in the early 1490's for instance,
all of a sudden feel convinced that they could do much better
work than Ptolemy and the ancient geographers?" or "What
different criteria did Union and Confederate troops seem to be
using in the names they chose for Civil War battles?").
Usually, the best discussion questions are those that have
multiple answers. For instance, when I discuss the Epic of
Gilgamesh with my class, I often ask the question, "What would
the people of ancient Mesopotamia particularly have liked about
this poem?" This broad question leads to further questions on
the poetic/literary technique of the poem, the characters in
the poem, the action of the story, etc.
Many of the best students like plenty of time to think
over their responses before they actually say anything. Asking
questions with multiple answers gives them time to collect
their thoughts while students a bit less hesitant are giving
Perhaps the most effective way to formulate good
discussion questions is to put ourselves in the students' place
and ask a couple of questions of ourselves. When I was a
student, would I have wanted to answer this question? When I
was a student, would I have learned something from attempting
to answer the question? If the answer to both questions is
yes, you've got a good question, and are well on your way to a
discussion that is not only lively, but worth your students'
HOMEWORK, TESTS, PAPERS, AND OTHER
DIRTY TRICKS TO PLAY ON YOUR STUDENTS
One of the most difficult tasks for the beginning teacher
is to come up with a good way of evaluating student
performance. The simplest method is to use the test-bank that
comes with the textbook you use and give the students periodic
multiple choice/short answer tests over the material covered.
Most of the software allows you to add questions of your own so
that you can include on the test things you talked about in
class but that weren't covered in the textbook.
The problem is that multiple choice tests aren't effective
in measuring some of the most important student outcomes. A
multiple choice exam does a good job testing students' ability
to recognize facts and theories, but such exams do not say much
about the students' ability to use the facts for any larger
purpose or to evaluate the material they have studied. It is
essential, then, that in addition to multiple choice tests, we
have some other way of measuring student progress.
Some of this measurement is informal. One can tell what
students are picking up by listening to what they say in class
discussion and by how well they respond to questions you ask in
The best way to evaluate student progress, however, is by
requiring of them some writing: essay tests, journals, short
essays, or term papers. Unfortunately, all four methods
require a lot of extra work on the teacher's part, and it takes
a pretty dedicated teacher to give student writing the
attention it deserves. Some suggestions for using your
correcting time as efficiently as possible and for encouraging
1. Circle or mark grammatical and spelling mistakes
as you read throughout the students' work, but don't
supply the corrections. Students need to know they are
making errors, but they learn better if they have to
figure out for themselves exactly what the error is.
2. Handle each student paper only once. Don't
shuffle the bad papers to the bottom. Force yourself to
correct each paper as it comes up. This saves time in the
3. In your comments, try to focus on one or two
specific things the student could have done better in his
4. Be as positive as possible with your comments.
Try to start and finish your remarks with something
5. Instill in students the habit of proofreading
their work and of having someone else (preferably a
parent) look at their work before it is turned in. Giving
extra points for a parent's signature is not a bad idea.
6. Encourage students to use word processors on all
outside-of-class assignments. Try to make sure students
who don't have computers at home have access to school
computers for their final drafts.
7. Be sure your own written work is a model of
correct grammar, spelling, and sentence construction.
Have someone else proofread your handouts before copying
them for the students.
One excellent way of giving students the writing practice
they need is to have them keep a journal. Reading student
journals is often delightful, and it can give you perhaps the
clearest picture of how the students are actually reacting to
the material in your class. Below are some of the suggested
journal topics I use in my U.S. history class:
1.Read any of the stories you skipped in the section
on immigrants in Stories of the American Experience.
Compare the experiences of different types of immigrants--
Jews, Armenians, Irishmen, etc. Explain why so many of
these stories are rather depressing.
2. Pick up at the library a collection of F. Scott
Fitzgerald short stories. Look especially for the stories
"The Rich Boy," "Summer Dreams," and "The Diamond as Big
as the Ritz." Tell me what you think of Fitzgerald's
depiction of the rich of his day. Is he sympathetic with
the problems of this class? Critical? Something of both?
4. Read any of the books in J. D. Fitzgerald's Great
Brain series. (J. D. is no relation to F. Scott!!) Note
the contrast in tone between this Fitzgerald's work and
that of other American writers. Why do you suppose adult
American fiction so seldom has the same positive point of
5. Pick up at the library a collection of either
Flannery O'Conner or William Faulkner short stories. Note
how a "southern" viewpoint affects these writers. Discuss
also their criticisms of southern society.
6. Read Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" speech. Do you
think this an effective answer to the demands of the
isolationists? Would you have been convinced by this
speech of the necessity of becoming involved in European
affairs? If so, why? If not, why not?
7. Read some of the earlier material in the Black
Voices book. Compare this to immigrant literature. Also,
explain why so much of the finest American literature is
written by those outside the "mainstream" of U.S. life.
Term papers and other research papers are much more
difficult for the teacher to guide and grade than journals,
and, as a result, many social studies teachers avoid assigning
such papers altogether. Writing research papers does teach
some valuable skills, however, and it's good to assign at least
one such paper during the year.
The main problem with the research paper is plagiarism.
Student research papers are typically just information they've
copied or paraphrased out of one or two books they picked up at
the library. Never let a student get away with this.19
The best way to avoid plagiarism is to assign papers that
require some originality on the student's part. Assigning a
report on the Battle of Gettysburg is just asking for
plagiarism. Asking a student to compare the battle of
Gettysburg to that of Antietam is better. Better still would
be an assignment asking the student to decide which Civil War
battle was most important and why. Best of all would be an
assignment asking the student to compare both speeches made at
the commemoration of the Gettysburg battlefield and to decide
which better summarizes the significance of the battle and the
Students do best when they have clear guidelines for their
papers. In addition to giving them suggested topics, give them
an idea of the length of the paper and the main things you will
be looking for as you grade. In addition, you might give them
the following guidelines:
He might end up as a senator from Massachusetts.
DR. ART'S PATENTED GUIDE FOR WRITING AN A-1, FIRST CLASS
EXCELLENT PAPER THAT YOUR TEACHER IS SURE TO LOVE
(OR AT LEAST ACCEPT)
The ability to express ideas clearly on paper is one of
the most important attributes of the successful student.
Fortunately, it is a skill that, with a little effort, almost
all students can acquire. If you follow the suggestions I give
you below, I can pretty much guarantee you a passing grade on
any paper you turn in.
1. Read carefully any written instructions the teacher gives
you for the paper assignment. Pay careful attention in
class as the teacher explains what he/she wants you to do.
Be sure to follow any guidelines he/she gives you
regarding length and format and (above all) topic choice.
There's no quicker way to fail than to write a one page
summary of the latest novel you've read when the teacher
has asked for 10 pages comparing the imagery used by Keats
and Yeats--especially if you turn in the paper three weeks
after the due date!
2. Begin research right away. There's nothing more
frustrating than finding out the day before an assignment
is due that a book you need has been checked out by
another student, or that the book store has sent back that
text you didn't buy because you didn't think you would
have to use it.
3. Jot down ideas for your paper as you read/do research.
Mark any passages that you think you may later cite in
support of your thesis. DON'T MARK LIBRARY BOOKS!!!!
4. Be sure to have a thesis: some point you are trying to
prove. State this thesis clearly. Usually, your thesis
statement will be the last sentence of your first
5. Now try "brainstorming," i.e. jotting down a list of
things you may want to include in your paper.
6. If necessary, revise your thesis.
7. Outline your paper.
8. Write your paper. Don't worry if everything's not perfect
the first time. You can always go back and revise.
revision. . .
9. Never fall in love with your first draft. First drafts
never represent your best work. If at first your paper
doesn't seem like "A" work, revise and revise again.
10. Make sure each paragraph of your paper contains a clear
topic sentence. Each topic sentence should relate to your
general thesis. Most often, the topic sentence will be
the first sentence of the paragraph.
11. Make sure everything in each paragraph supports your topic
sentence. (The fancy name for this is "coherence." If
your teacher tells you your paper lacks coherence, he/she
means that the sentences/paragraphs are not properly
12. Proofread your paper carefully. Errors in spelling and
grammar make your work look second-rate.
13. Let someone else proofread your paper before turning in a
final draft. It's nice to get the opinion of someone who
writes well, but anyone who can read can tell you if your
ideas come across clearly or not.
14. Be sure to avoid plagiarism, i.e. taking someone else's
ideas/words without giving them proper credit. Remember
that even if you mention your source in your footnotes,
you may still be plagiarizing.
The best way to handle secondary source material is to
remember that while you are not an expert on the topic
discussed by the book, you are (or can be) an expert on
what the author of the book says. Suppose, for instance,
that while doing a research paper on the Ante-Nicene
church, you come across the following remark:
The Montanist eschatological position was almost the
reverse of that of the gnostics. They were believers
in the literal resurrection, believers in the
millennium, and especially firm believers in prophecy
and its fulfillment.
The proper way of using this idea in your own paper is to
say something like this:
According to Art Marmorstein, Montanist eschatology
was very different from that of the gnostics. He
notes that, unlike the gnostics, the Montanists
believed in the resurrection, the millennium, and in
the fulfillment of prophecy.
The problem with the above guidelines is that they don't
address the main reason students write poorly. Students'
writing problems stem mostly from the fact that they spend
their time watching T.V. rather than reading. The solution?
Give them so much reading homework they have no time for the
Television really is bad news, and one of the best things
you can do for your students is to convince them not to watch.
Start by setting a good example. Throw your own T.V. out.
After a few weeks, you'll never miss it--and you'll wonder how
you ever had time for it in the first place.
SHUT DOWN SYSTEM IMMEDIATELY AND REBOOT:
INSTRUCTIONAL TECHNOLOGY IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES
Professor Peter Shattuck of California State University,
Sacramento, was once part of a state-wide committee on the
future of higher education. At one point, each member of this
committee was asked what he hoped the classroom of the 21st
century would be like. Most of the committee members talked
about technology. Many talked of computers at every classroom
desk. Some envisioned fascinating multi-media presentations of
course material. Others talked about giving students access to
an information system so good that classroom meetings would be
unnecessary. Professor Shattuck's comment was a bit different.
He noted that, when he began his own college work, what one
typically found in the university classroom was someone who
knew quite a bit about a subject talking with those who knew
less, but wanted to learn. He hoped that in the 21st century
university one would still find teachers who knew a lot about a
subject talking with groups of students who knew less, but
wanted to learn.
Shattuck was quite right. The only essentials for a solid
education are a good teacher and eager students. Technology
may help motivate students or enable teacher and students to
work more efficiently, but it is no substitute for a caring,
dedicated teacher. Nevertheless, there are technological
resources the social studies teacher should be prepared to use
Computers have an enormous potential for helping students
learn and review information. Unfortunately, most of the
software available for social studies isn't very helpful. The
problem is that too much software design effort goes into
graphics and sound and not enough into the factual content of
the program. Typical is "Where in Time is Carmen San Diego?" -
-a program that's fun to play, but doesn't teach very much.
Try to find simpler programs that emphasize content. A
good program should emphasize important information rather than
trivia. It should reinforce right answers immediately and
simply. It should also force immediate correction of wrong
answers and provide a means for reviewing missed questions.
James B. Shick's Teaching History with a Computer, though out
of date, is worth looking at as a guide to effective software.
Many of the latest programs are available on CD-ROM.
Unfortunately, CD-ROM is a very mixed bag. As Selma Dunham, a
recent presenter at the Northern Conference on Teaching and
Learning put it, "When it's good, it's very, very good; but
when it's bad, it's horrid."
When is it good? When it's something like the Thesaurus
Linguae Graecae, a CD that contains everything that survives in
ancient Greek and makes it possible to accomplish in days what
once would have taken years. When is it bad? When graphics
and sound are placed ahead of content, i.e., most of the time.
At the present time, the best software and CD-ROM packages
are those bundled with new textbooks and available as
supplemental materials through textbook publishers. Many
publishers are putting entire texts on CD. For a lot of
students, about the only advantage to a CD-based text is the
fantastic indexing this makes available. For students with
reading disabilities, however, this is an absolutely tremendous
development. A computer with a CD-ROM drive, speakers, and a
good sound card can read the text to the student as he or she
follows along--a great advantage for the struggling student.
Of course, the old fashioned method of having a better
student or a parent read the text aloud accomplishes the same
thing--and sometimes more effectively. But the CD-ROM approach
allows students with reading disabilities more independence.
2. The Internet
The Internet is probably the most useful and most
promising area opened up by new technology. The World Wide Web
(WWW) is especially easy to use and helpful. Through it, your
students can gain information that would be difficult to obtain
anywhere else. Unfortunately, the WWW isn't organized in any
logical way, and, unless your students know what they're doing,
they'll end up wasting a lot of time. For that matter, even if
they do know what they're doing, they could end up wasting a
lot of time.
The WWW is simply a way of hooking up all the information
people all over the world want to make accessible to others via
computer. There is no "quality control," and much of what one
finds may be outdated, inaccurate, or offensive. But there are
still some wonderful things you can find via the Web. The main
trick is to know what kind of things the WWW is good for and
what kind of things it s not particularly good at.
One excellent feature of the WWW is that it has made
easily available so many important works as electronic texts.
One can download everything from Jane Austen to Shakespeare and
from the Bible to Diderot's encyclopedia.
The advantage to getting these texts via computer is that
one then has a super index. For instance, if you want to know
what Voltaire thought about Diderot, you can find every mention
of Diderot in Voltaire's works. If you want to know what Plato
had to say about love, you can find every mention of the word
love in his dialogues.
The Web is also very good when it comes to getting a wide
range of views on current events. Infoseek s collection of top
stories (http://yournews.infoseek.com) is a great way of
keeping on top of breaking news. Newspapers like the Boston
Globe and the Wall Street Journal have on-line editions. It s
particularly great to be able to access over-seas newspapers
and to see what other countries are saying about events in
America. There s a good set of news source links on the AP
Getting information from the newspaper links is
particularly useful because there is at least a bit of quality
control. One can have as much confidence in the Boston Globe s
on-line edition as one does in the newspaper itself.
The Web is also a very good way to obtain government
information. One can get the text of ballot initiatives from
Maine to California, economic data from the Treasury
Department, and demographic data from the Census Department.
The Web is getting better and better at providing teaching
resources. It s well worth checking out the links in Social
Studies Sources (http://education.indiana.edu/~socialst) and
the equally valuable History/Social Studies Website for K-12
Teachers (http://www.execpc.com/~dboals/boals.html). You might
also find useful some of the links in the history/geography
sections of Study Web
Unfortunately, the Web isn t yet an ideal place for one of
things history teachers would like it use it for the most:
historical research. In many instances, the information one
wants isn t yet on the Web. Just try, for instance, to find
accurate information on the history of Bangladesh. And often
enough, when one does find information, it s hard to evaluate
the reliability of that information.
The main problem with trying to do research on the Web,
however, is the problem of organization. The information one
wants may very well be there somewhere, but finding that
information is another matter. And most students (and
teachers) tend to approach the Web far too unsystematically.
The reason for this is clear enough. The Web seems to be just
random information. There s no Library of Congress or Dewey
Decimal system to tell you where to look, and no friendly
reference librarian either. However, there are ways to bring
order to the chaos and to make one s searches much more
efficient? How? Let me recommend...
DR. ART'S GUIDE TO THE WORLD WIDE WEB
LEARNING TO SURF WITHOUT A BOARD
The World Wide Web can give you something of the feel of a
garage sale. If you re looking for some particular thing,
you ll waste a lot of time. But if you re just poking around,
you may find some great stuff. But what if you do want
information on a specific topic? The magic of computer
technology just might help you find that particular needle in
the gigantic haystack that makes up the Web--and the better you
get at surfing, the easier it will be to find what you re
looking for. Some suggestions:
1. Get to know several good search engines. Alta Vista
(http://www.yahoo.com) Infoseek (http://www.infoseek.com),
and Magellan (http://www.mckinley.com) are all worth
trying out. Excite (http://www.excite.com) is also very
good. I also find useful Metacrawler
(http://www.metacrawler.com), a search engine that
compares search results from many other engines and
collates the results for you.
2. Read the instructions for the search engine you use. Most
search engines follow pretty much the same conventions.
For instance, placing a phrase in quotation marks usually
causes the search engine to look for words in close
proximity. Capitalizing usually causes the engine to
treat adjacent words as a full name. Placing a "+" before
the term means the term must be included for a source will
be listed among the results. However, most searches have
something unique about them that makes them particularly
effective for a certain type of search. It s worth taking
the time to learn those special features.
3. Maintain an organized set of bookmarks. When you find a
web site you might want to come back to another time, it s
a good idea to save its location as a bookmark. The
problem is, that after you ve surfed the Web for week or
two, you ll probably find your bookmark list too
cumbersome to use easily. The best way to remedy this is
to keep your bookmarks organized. Use the edit function
to create categories for your bookmarks. Sort through
your bookmarks from time to time and remove dead links.
4. Take advantage of other people s lists of links. You can
be sure that, whatever your main field of interest,
someone on the Web has spent hours putting together a good
collection of links and making them available on the Web.
There s no sense reinventing the wheel: take advantage of
their efforts (and drop them a note thanking them for the
hours they ve saved you).
If you re trying to do historical research, you might start
with the well-organized set of history links in Resources for
Historians (http://kuhttp.cc.ukans.edu/history). Also very
useful are the links listed on UC Riverside's History
Department Home Page
(http://www.ucr.edu/h-gig/horuslinks.html). In addition, you
can find a collection of links on my home page
(http://lupus.northern.edu/marmorsa). This site is badly
organized and incomplete, but it s the only place you can get
the complete texts of Love, Sex, and the Fragile Egos of
Men, and Men, Women, and Other Mythological Creatures.
5. Save the text in the right form. The default mode is best
if you want to bring up graphics, but if you want text you
can work with in Word Perfect or if you want to transmit
the text via e-mail, switching to "plain text" often works
6. Don t automatically print out all the information you
find. It's often much more convenient to keep the
information in electronic format where it can be
7. Avoid peak time. Internet searches tend to go much faster
in the early morning, late evening, or weekends.
8. Learn your navigator s features. The mysterious buttons
on the tool bar often give you access to magical
shortcuts. Using the go feature in Netscape, for
instance, is often much quicker than using the back and
9. Turn off automatic image loading when searching. Many
sites are hard to access because of needless fancy
graphics added to them. Using the options feature to
turn off automatic image loading will make your search
much, much quicker. Unfortunately, you ll sometimes run
into sites where you need the needs the images to
navigate. A click on the images button will let you see
the images on that page without your having to re-do your
options and reload the page.
The advent of the VCR makes available to teachers
thousands of movies and news clips, and it's very tempting to
make considerable use of the VCR in the classroom.
Unfortunately, VCR's have one very great drawback: students
don't learn from video--at least they don't learn facts.
When the VCR is turned on, students go into alpha-state
and simply absorb, but what they absorb is not information. It
helps somewhat to give students study questions in advance and
to stop and discuss the material in the video every ten minutes
or so. But no matter what you do, students still won't learn
very much from a video.
What a video does affect is student emotions and
attitudes, and here it is a useful (though also dangerous)
tool. Night and Fog will give students an unforgettable
impression of the holocaust. Harvest of Despair will make
clear as nothing else can the horror of Stalin's dealings with
Ukraine. Glory can reveal a side to the Civil War most
students wouldn't imagine for themselves. Eyes on the Prize
can convey to students a feeling of what it was actually like
to be a part of the Civil Rights Movement.
So when do you use videos? When your objectives are
primarily affective, when what you care most about is students'
attitudes and emotions.
One last word about videos. It is unethical to show
students PG-13 and R rated movies without parental notification
and consent. Hollywood's notion of what may require parental
guidance is none too strict, and teachers certainly shouldn't
have a lower standard.
3. Video Cameras
While students tend not to learn much while watching
videos, they can learn a great deal when preparing their own.
Writing a screen play, putting together costumes and scenery,
rehearsing their parts, and recording a production combine to
provide a truly memorable learning experience.
While slide photography is "old" technology, slide shows
can still be an effective teaching tool. Slides do tend to be
soporific (though not nearly as much as videos), but this can
be overcome by asking students to interpret the slides and tell
you what they see rather than giving a straight lecture.
Slides are a good way to introduce students to the
investigation of primary source material. In my World
Civilization class, for instance, I spend some time on slides
of Egyptian tomb paintings. It's amazing the insights my
students gain about Egyptian society from these paintings.
They are able to act like true historians, drawing their own
conclusions about Egyptian values, farming practices, religious
beliefs, social structure, etc.
One last comment about technology. School boards and
federal programs tend to dump money into anything that's new.
As historians, part of our job is to stand up for what's old
and worth remembering. Some of the new is good, but some of it
is outright dangerous.
A MADNESS IN THEIR METHODS:
NEW TRENDS IN EDUCATION
Few of us would run out to buy a laundry detergent
simply because it was advertised as new and improved. We are
consumer-smart enough to know that such slogans tend to mean
nothing, at least when it comes to household products.
However, when it comes to education, many of us are less
discerning shoppers. Whenever something new comes along, many
educators rush to get on the bandwagon--even when the benefits
of the new approach are far from certain. Consider the
Not long ago, Justin, a third grader, being bored in
class, made a mistake on a math problem. Ordinarily, the error
would have been quickly forgotten, but this error, for two
reasons, was not. First, Tiffany Steele noticed it and pointed
it out to all the other third graders. Second, the equation
was so simple that not even deficient first graders would have
missed the right answer. The equation was 2+2=, and Justin
had answered "7." He didn't know why he had answered "7." He
just liked sevens, and he wasn't really thinking about what he
was doing. The entire class laughed at him for a full five
minutes. Crushed and humiliated, Justin determined never to
make the same mistake again.
In fourth grade the equation 2+2= rarely appeared, but
when it did Justin was always sure to answer "4" since he had
learned quickly that any other answer was not only wrong but
criminal, even sinful. Or so it seemed.
The next year Justin became so accustomed to equations
that he was no longer concerned about them. He had memorized
all his math facts and was careful to provide correct answers
One day a counselor visited the math class and announced
that the teachers were going to begin to take a more open view
of equations than they had previously. The counselor did not
say that it was all right to answer 2+2= with a seven, but he
did say that it was unhealthy to view equations as requiring
only one right answer. Although traditional answers would
still be preferred, he said, other answers would also be
In sixth grade Justin's math teacher, Mr. Devarsity, began
to insist that innovative answers be given equal treatment with
standard answers. No longer would traditional answers be given
special status. Unequal treatment was plainly discriminatory.
Justin understood the new policy to mean that 2+2=7 was just
as valid an equation as 2+2=4. Because he had trained himself
for so long to remember the right answers, however, he was
uncomfortable with the new laxity. It was a little unsettling
now to realize that the right answers were no longer
Mr. Devarsity told him privately that adjusting to new
ways of thinking often required time. "Just relax," he said,
"and accept." At the same time he made it clear that plus
signs "+" were no longer to be used in equations. Many people,
it seemed, had complained that the plus sign was much too
similar in shape to a religious symbol for it to be allowed in
public schools. The establishment clause clearly prohibited
the continued display of such a symbol in math classes. Mr.
Devarsity did not wish to be accused of promoting religion, he
said, so plus signs were to be replaced by circles.
Justin was annoyed at this change. The circles really
looked out of place. Still, he understood the necessity of the
rule. He reluctantly began to write his equation as 2 0 2 = 7.
Later in the year the principal, Ms. Xara Smith-Jones,
discussed new rules for writing equals signs. "The traditional
equals sign," she declared, "was constructed on a patriarchal
model. As you will notice by close observation, one bar of the
equals sign lies prone and helpless beneath the power and
dominance of the other. This kind of insensitivity in a symbol
that is supposed to represent equality and fairness will never
The principal demanded the insensitive horizontal bars of
the equals sign "=" be replaced with harmonious, equitable,
vertical bars "ll." To distinguish the new equals sign from
the number "11" the number "11" would be replaced by the number
"18." Justin reluctantly complied, but would often mistakenly
use the numeral "11" by accident.
Shortly after the principal's proclamation, Mr. Devarsity
began to talk about numeral values. He asserted that it was
wrong to expect numerals always to hold the same values. To do
so showed lack of imagination and a bent toward narrow-minded
thinking. There was, after all, no one right answer to
equations anymore. Everyone knew that. To believe there was
only one way of looking at the worth of a number was also
simplistic, and Mr. Devarsity wanted his students to know it.
At first the students resisted the changes, and Justin was
beginning to get more than a little annoyed at all the
innovations. He and his peers stubbornly stuck to the standard
values of numbers and even reverted to presenting the old
symbols and equations. After a while, however, the students
began to see advantages in adopting the new view of
mathematics. Whenever they neglected their homework, they
simply scribbled a bunch of numbers on the page and turned it
in. Mr. Devarsity was quite pleased. He praised them for
their creativity and independent spirit.
It was not enough, though, to allow numerals to hold
arbitrary values. If one wrote 0 0 0 ll 0, then obviously
zeros were over-represented in one equation, no matter whether
the zeros stood for 5, 3, or 162. The symbols themselves
needed to be expressed in an equal and fair way if equations
were to be truly equal. So new rules were invented by the
administration to make sure that no hint of inequality entered
equations. Before long, there was quite a list of rules for
ensuring that all symbols received equal use. Because of the
extensive memorization required, many students lost heart and
gave up mathematics altogether. They grew up to become
historians and English teachers. But Justin stuck with it. He
began to get a thrill from inventing more and more complex ways
of expressing what had once been simple equations.
Justin whizzed through college, learning quickly that the
new principles that were applied to mathematics were easily
applied to other subjects as well. Once he learned terms such
as "implementation of categorized divergent thinking
processes" and "envisioning the empowerment of
resource-limited homogenous individuals" he plugged them into
his papers wherever necessary. After attaining degree upon
degree, he became curriculum superintendent for a large
California school district.
All did not go well, however. Parents of students began
to complain about the curricula he was inventing.
"Johnny doesn't even know that 2 + 2 = 4," mothers would
He would nod understandingly and throw out a few of the
phrases he had learned in college. Usually, his answers would
confound the parents enough to make them leave him alone.
Meanwhile, Justin's ideas became the rage in education
circles. He became the country's most sought after speaker at
education conferences and symposia. Soon his ideas were
incorporated into the curricula of virtually every school in
Soon, though, airplanes began to crash throughout the
country. Drivers of cars would read into speed limit symbols
any value they liked, and car accidents increased dramatically.
Nurses in hospitals interpreted thermometer readings any way
they wished, and patients died of infection at alarming rates.
Bridges collapsed, buildings toppled, dams burst. Parents
blamed the chaos on Justin's curricula.
Justin denied that his innovations had anything to do with
the current state of disarray in the country, but parents and
media were still livid. He tried to demonstrate that other
factors, and not the new curricula, were responsible for the
state of society, but no one paid any attention.
"Our kids can't even add two plus two!" the parents
At a loss, Justin visited the aging Mr. Devarsity, who
lived in a modest California retirement home.
"The new attitudes are just too hard to explain to these
obtuse parents," he complained to his old mentor. "They don't
understand the benefits of open-minded thinking and creativity.
You and I know that only through the new curricula can students
approach math in a way that is tolerant and fair, but I can't
convince the public. I'm utterly frustrated."
Mr. Devarsity pushed himself up in his bed, nodded wisely,
and smiled. He looked hard at Justin for a few seconds, and
then motioned for Justin to come near. It was clear that Mr.
Devarsity wanted to tell him something important, so Justin
leaned forward, close to Mr. Devarsity's mouth. The old
teacher whispered something, and Justin had to bend forward
even more to catch what he was saying.
"Don't fight it. Use it."
It took Justin several days to cipher Mr. Devarsity's
message, but it was worth the effort when he finally
understood. At the next press conference, in the face of angry
crowds, he announced that, yes, there was a problem with math
education, and that, yes, the curriculum could be improved
greatly. The problem, he admitted, was very large indeed, and
things would continue to get worse, unless . . . unless
billions of dollars were immediately poured into education, and
especially into programs for developing new math curricula.
The people were taken aback at this new approach.
Perhaps education was not a high enough priority in the budget.
Perhaps they were expecting too much for the meager amount of
tax money allocated to schools. Perhaps investing a little
more revenue in curriculum development programs would improve
the quality of math education. Perhaps children would be
better able to grasp basic math concepts when schools could
afford quality math programs.
Justin carried his point, and soon vast amounts of money
flowed into his curriculum development projects. Justin used
much of this new money to invent even more creative programs.
He instituted a thousand teacher training seminars. He
developed colorful packaging plans. He promoted his programs
at conferences and meetings. The more the money poured in, the
more Justin demanded. Obviously, curricula could not be
improved without a great deal of government support.
In a few years, Justin became quite wealthy, though he
couldn't count his money. More than that, he knew that
fairness and equality were now a central part of a student's
education, and this knowledge gave him much more satisfaction
than money could ever provide.
-- Donna Marmorstein
Unfortunately, Justins and Mr. Devarsitys are common
figures in education circles, and even when a new trend sounds
good, the wise teacher approaches it with caution. The social
studies teacher needs to be especially careful, since flaws in
our methodology don't have the same obvious consequences as a
faulty approach to mathematics.
Here are my thoughts on a few of the most important
current trends in education. There are some valuable ideas in
each, but also some real dangers.
Even the proponents of outcome-based education find it a
bit hard to define. Boschee and Baron's Outcome-Based
Education begins by saying this:
Outcome-based education is a student-centered, results-
oriented design premised on the belief that all
individuals can learn. Outcome-based education is: a
commitment to the success of every learner; a philosophy
which focuses educational choices on the needs of each
learner; a process for continuous improvement (Boshee and
This is an admirable statement of principle, but it is
hardly a satisfactory definition: any of a number of teaching
philosophies match up to those standards.20
Boshee and Barron are no more helpful as they describe the
strategy of outcome-based education:
Socrates would no more have been satisfied with this
definition than he was with the definition of Gorgias' profession
as "the noblest and best."
What each student is to learn is clearly identified. Each
student's progress is based on demonstrated achievement.
Each student's needs are accommodated through multiple
instructional strategies and assessment tools. Each
student is provided time and assistance to realize his
potential. (Boschee and Baron, p. 2)
Once again, a good statement of principle, but one that
fails to distinguish OBE from any other teaching method, except
perhaps in the use of multiple strategies and assessment tools.
So what does distinguish OBE? Not its emphasis on clearly
stated goals ("outcomes"). Teachers have been taught for years
that good teaching depends on having clear objectives and on
making sure one achieves those objectives. Not in its emphasis
on results rather than process. OBE is as process-oriented as
any other method.21 OBE differs from earlier teaching
strategies primarily in the way program objectives are created.
What happens in outcome-based education is that goals are
established "cooperatively." What this translates to in real
life is that the implementation of OBE requires an immense
Consider, for instance, this example from a recent
workshop at Northern. Professors were asked how they would
respond to the question "What do you do at the college?" The
standard answer to the question, "I teach," was classified as a
process response. In its place was suggested a so-called
"outcomes" response, "I facilitate student learning." Obviously,
facilitating learning is every bit as much a process as teaching,
and what the whole exercise teaches is simply how to write
amount of committee work.
OBE also has a tendency to translate goals into
educationese. Boschee and Baron include these model objectives
for the what they call a purposeful thinker:
1. Uses strategies to form concepts, make decisions, and
2. Applies a variety of integrated processes including
critical and creative thinking to
accomplish complex tasks.
3. Evaluates the effectiveness of mental strategies
through meaningful reflection. Demonstrates
flexibility, persistence, and a sense of ethical
consideration (Boshee and Baron, p. 42).
I doubt very much that any classroom teacher would find
such goals helpful. Further, in an OBE system, the classroom
teacher would probably be required to demonstrate their success
in producing these outcomes--a time-consuming and not very
It's difficult to argue with the overall concepts behind
outcome-based education. We ought to have a clear purpose for
what we teach and we ought to devise ways of telling whether or
not we are achieving our goals. But if the implementation of
OBE turns us into paper-pushers rather than teachers, we ought
to resist its inroads every step of the way.
One final note on OBE. Proponents of OBE maintain that
outcome-based education is a necessary replacement of the
process-based educational system of the past. Their criticisms
of process-based education are valid. The problem is that OBE
itself tends to become process-based. The real answer it seems
to me is content-based education.
The implementation of OBE is often accompanied by what is
called mastery learning. Mastery learning, a teaching style
advocated by researchers like Benjamin Bloom, has at its core
the idea that only mastery of basic concepts will prepare a
student to succeed in learning more advanced concepts. A
student who has difficulties at an early stage of an
educational sequence will only have more difficulty if he/she
is passed on to the next level while still inadequately
The problem is quite real. Small differences in
achievement in the early grades get magnified with each passing
year, until by high school the gap between top achievers and
the bottom of the class is so great that it is almost
impossible to overcome.
The solution, say the advocates of mastery learning, is to
make sure students absorb not merely some of the information
presented, but to master it before going on to further tasks.
The expressed goal is excellence for each student.
Can the gap in achievement between talented students and
their less intelligent peers be decreased? In some subjects,
and given enough resources, the answer appears to be yes. In
the sciences, for instances, achievement appears to correlate
almost as much with motivation as it does with intelligence
(See, for instance Herbert J. Walberg's, "Examining the Theory,
Practice and Outcomes of Mastery Learning," in Improving
Student Achievement through Mastery Learning, p. 6).
The problem with mastery learning is that it is very
difficult to implement in a way that will not adversely affect
some students. Early experiments in mastery learning gave the
whole thing a bad name. Teachers often tried to keep the whole
class together, waiting until all students had passed an exam
before going on to a new topic. While this strategy did
produce gains in achievement for the bottom third of the class,
it held back the top achievers and drew the wrath of their
Further, much of what passes for "mastery learning" isn't
even close to what the theorists advocated. Many so-called
"mastery learning programs" simply involve giving the students
the same test over and over until they pass it. But passing a
test one has seen before is no guarantee of mastery. Each
repetition of a test is decreases the validity of the test, and
a perfect score on the tenth repetition of the test doesn't
mean the same thing as perfection on the first.
Further, mastery learning as implemented can be extremely
frustrating to those students who are not well organized. It
often involves a time-consuming shuffling of papers back and
forth from teacher to student, a process that results in many
lost papers and much wasted time redoing lost assignments.
Additionally, mastery learning is designed to address a
problem that doesn't greatly affect the social sciences. A
student who fails Algebra I is almost certain to fail Algebra
II, but a student who fails a world history course can earn an
"A" in U.S. history even if he/she never learns the material
from the former course.
Besides, there is a simpler solution to the problem
mastery learning addresses: go back to placing students on
accelerated, average, and slower tracks. Such grouping works
as well as anything else in helping students reach their
individual potentials, while "mainstreaming," the educational
rage of the 70's and 80's, correlates negatively with
achievement (Walburg, p. 7).
Collaborative learning stresses co-operation rather than
competition in the classroom. Its advocates maintain that it
teaches some of the most important real-world skills: creating
groups, working together with others, managing differences, and
solving problems. They maintain that such a teaching strategy
improves self esteem and enhances achievement.
Lots of group work and such strategies as peer counseling
typify collaborative learning programs. The real emphasis of
collaborative learning, however, is on a fundamental re-
thinking of the way we want students to react to each other and
Collaboration and cooperation are undoubtedly important
skills. Without them there would be no pyramids, no ocean
liners, no cities, no civilization at all. But do we really
have to put more emphasis on these skills than traditional
teachers did? Maybe, and maybe not. My guess is that we have
already become too collaborative.
Overemphasis on collaboration has become one of the worst
wastes of teacher time in the schools today. Extra committee
meetings and paper work proliferate as administrators try to
change from "authoritarian" to "collaborative" styles.22
Collaborative learning in the classroom likewise tends to
take more time than a traditional approach. For example,
instead of simply issuing rules for students, a teacher taking
The irony is that a "collaborative" style of
administration leads to less autonomy for individual classroom
teachers and more interference in the nuts and bolts of the job.
The proper role of an administrator is to give someone a clear
task, and then leave them alone so they can do it.
a collaborative approach invites them to share in the making of
the rules, a much more time-consuming operation. Now, in some
instances, this may turn out to be time well spent, but before
one wholeheartedly embraces the collaborative approach, it is
well to be aware of this potential problem.
Another worrisome feature of the collaborative approach is
the extreme hostility to competition between individuals.23
The advocates of collaboration warn us not to have kids play
musical chairs, keep away, or dodge ball (Susan and Tim Hill,
The Collaborative Classroom, p. 114). Games like Buzz have to
be modified to avoid any "losers" (Hill, p. 122).
It's not just competition the advocates of collaborative
learning don't like. There is within the movement also a
strong dislike of traditional Western modes of thought. In his
Collaborative Learning, Kenneth Bruffee talks of a need to
escape what he calls "the Procrustean bed of cognitive
thought." What this means is that traditional Western
rationality stretches you to death if you are short and cuts
off your head if you are tall. He prefers, for some tasks at
least, an entirely different thinking process.
Behind Bruffee's objections to cognitive thought is an
underlying philosophy often called post-structuralism.
Competition between groups is not viewed quite so
negatively, and collaborative learning advocates sometimes
advocate the use of group competition as a motivator.
Essentially, the post-structuralists believe that knowledge is
socially constructed. Reality is not "out there" for us to
discover, but is in fact invented by us (or at least by our
particularly community). "Ultimate" reality (if there is such
a thing) is inherently unknowable: what we know is only what we
have constructed for ourselves.
It should be clear that post-structuralism, whether right
or wrong, involves a radical challenge to traditional
epistemology and ultimately to all of our traditional ideas on
learning. Above all, post-structuralism is incompatible with
Western religious thinking. If there is a creator God, then
reality is what He has made, not what we construct for
Certainly not all those who advocate collaborative
learning are post-structuralists. Many of them probably don't
even know what post-structuralism is, and few of them
understand its implications. But what many of them do share
with the post-structuralists is a dislike of the Western
tradition. In fact, of all the new trends in modern education,
one of the most widespread is a desire to move away from the
traditional ideas of Western civilization and to replace them
with something else. This tendency is most pronounced in what
is called multiculturalism. Of all the new trends in
education, multiculturalism is the one that affects the social
sciences the most, and it is by far the most important to
The multiculturalist movement began as an attempt to
address what its proponents believed is a serious problem in
America, intolerance and bigotry. American students, so the
argument runs, are all the products of an intolerant society, a
"Eurocentric" society that has systematically oppressed women,
homosexuals, Native Americans, blacks, and all other non-white,
non-African peoples. Further, if these "Eurocentric" types are
not checked, they will destroy the planet because of their
disdain for nature.
Typical of the multicultural movement is the attempt to do
away with Western civilization courses.24 Not so long ago,
most university students took two semesters of Western
civilization as part of their general education requirements.
No longer. On most campuses, Western civilization has been
replaced by something called world civilizations. A victory
for tolerance? Not quite.
For one thing, Western civilization courses were already
pretty inclusive in the first place. The typical Western
At Stanford, my alma mater, this opposition reached fever
pitch a few years ago as crowds of multiculturalists protested
the Western civilization requirement. Their chant "Hey, hey, ho,
ho, Western Civ has got to go" gets to the heart of what
multiculturalism is all about.
civilization course began with Egypt and Mesopotamia, spent a
great deal of time on Greece and Rome, and then moved on to
Byzantium, Islam, Medieval Europe, the Renaissance, the
Reformation, the Enlightenment and finally to more recent
What was left out? Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and
Asia. Why? Not because of Eurocentricism, but because of
something far more simple. History follows documents. Without
documentary sources you can do archeology or anthropology, but
not history. There are almost no documents from sub-Saharan
Africa before the 17th century. The same thing is true of the
Americas: pre-Columbian written sources are rare, and, until
recently, couldn't be deciphered. While pre-Moslem India did
produce documents, they were not of a kind from which one can
Now what is the result of forcing historians to give equal
attention to Africa, India, and South America? For one, a
tendency to shift away from antiquity (when there are few
sources for these peoples) and toward recent history. The
other tendency is to shift away from documents, to start doing
a bastardized anthropology instead of history. Now neither of
China and Japan, of course, did produce the kind of
written records useful to historians. However, for much of
their history, China and Japan were isolationist, and it is not
too surprising that these unique societies tended to be studied
in separate courses rather than as part of a history survey.
these trends makes people more likely to confront ideas
different from their own. On the contrary, the modern world is
relatively homogenous. Virtually no modern country contrasts
as much with our own experience as does Ancient Sumer or
Ancient Persia. And whenever historians shift away from
documents, there is an even more insidious danger. Invariably,
when people are not speaking for themselves through their
documents, we invent for them a history based on our own ideas
of what things should be like.
One other problem is that to include these new topics,
something else must be left out. The curricula is already too
full, there are already far too many requirements. So what
gets left out or short changed? The two main strands of
Western civilization, the classical tradition (our inheritance
from Greece and Rome) and the Judeo-Christian tradition (our
inheritance from the Hebrews). It is these two traditions that
lie at the heart of Western civilization and that form the
ultimate foundations for our government, our educational
institutions, and our way of life. And it is these traditions
that give us our traditions of tolerance and openness to new
Consider first of all our legacy from the Greeks. The
Greek achievement stands as the basis for much of our
civilization. Our science, art, drama, poetry, political
science, philosophy, and history all stand on foundations laid
by the Greeks. What kind of disciplines did the Greeks
establish? Intolerant, closed-minded disciplines closed to new
ideas? On the contrary, the Greeks borrowed freely everything
they could find that was good from other civilizations. Their
literature shows an unusual sympathy with non-Greeks. Hector,
not Achilles, is the most admirable character in the Iliad.
Greek history likewise displays an admiration for things non-
Greek, and an immense thirst for knowledge of the world beyond
their own doors. In establishing political science, the Greeks
gave us the possibility of being objective in our analysis of
both our own and other people's governments. Greek philosophy,
far from being Eurocentric, shows a readiness to question all
preconceptions and to get beyond cultural biases in an attempt
to find a universal truth.
Was the Greek view of the world narrow and Eurocentric?
Hardly! The Greeks were eclectic, picking and choosing the
best from many cultures. The Greeks were syncretistic,
emphasizing what they had in common with other peoples rather
than differences. Above all, the Greeks simply hungered for
knowledge about everything.
These attitudes the Greeks bequeathed to the Romans. The
Romans, perhaps even more than the Greeks, had a talent for
absorbing what was best from other cultures. The Roman Empire
eventually included people for an incredible variety of ethnic
backgrounds--Greeks, Syrians, Egyptian, Celts, Italians, Arabs-
-and they made the mix work. Further, while Roman ancestry was
at first an essential of high social status, by the third
century an Arab, several Syrians, and even a Carthaginian had
risen to the position of emperor.
The Romans, like the Greeks, showed no hesitation in
admiring the strengths of their enemies. Hannibal, the great
enemy of Rome, gets every bit his due in Livy's great account
of the second Punic War. In his Germania, Tacitus insists that
the Germans were better than the Romans in regard to sexual
morality, bravery, and attitude toward money. Indeed, Tacitus
uses the Germans more or less as a club to batter into his
Roman readers' heads a sense of their own moral decay.
Tacitus doesn't hesitate to point out the problems with
the Germans either, noting their lack of discipline and lack of
physical stamina. The multiculturalists would accuse Tacitus
of judging people by his own standards. Well, that's clearly
not what Tacitus thought he was doing.
Tacitus, like other Romans, realized that certain
standards were culture bound. He noted that the Germans had
different religious ceremonies from the Romans, and was firm in
his insistence that they were not to be condemned just for
these cultural differences. But Tacitus also believed that in
some areas there was a higher standard by which the conduct of
all nations could be judged, a standard which we, and some of
the Romans themselves, call the jus gentium, the law of
And here is the crux of the argument between those who
embrace multiculturalism and those who don't. Is there such a
standard? Is there a universal measurement by which all people
can be judged? The traditional Western answer has been yes,
insisting that what we have in common as human beings is more
important than minor external differences. Diogenes proclaimed
that he was "cosmopolites," a citizen of the world. Terence
wrote, "I am a man, nothing human is alien to me."
Multiculturalism sounds like it is saying the same thing,
but in actuality it is just the reverse. Multiculturalism says
that we do not necessarily have anything in common, that there
is no core of common standards one can expect from all. And
ultimately, multiculturalism respects no culture, serving
primarily as an excuse to ignore what the great teachers of all
civilizations have held most important.
One thing that should be apparent to anyone who studies
history is that the great moral teachers all thought pretty
much alike. If you follow faithfully the moral teachings of
Buddha, Plato, Confucius, Moses, Christ, or Zoroaster, you end
up living pretty much the same kind of life, and you end up a
reasonably good person. What do the great teachers think we
should do? What do they think we should avoid? The
traditional lists of seven cardinal virtues and seven deadly
sins represent pretty much a consensus.
The Seven Cardinal Virtues The Seven Deadly Sins
Now consider what the multiculturalists would do with such
a list. The seven cardinal virtues are gone. In their place,
one cardinal virtue: tolerance. The seven deadly sins are
gone. In their place, one deadly sin: intolerance. It is
incredible how much this new system of values is being drummed
into our heads. Education conferences, television programs,
political speeches, and newspaper editorials are constantly
harping on this one theme.
Why? Because tolerance is easy, far easier than any of
the old virtues. It's easier to be tolerant than to control
your lust. It's easier to be tolerant than just. It's easier
to be tolerant than brave. It's easier to be tolerant than
faithful. And most of all, it's easier to be tolerant than to
The two traditions on which Western civilization stands
are both hard. True Christianity is hard. It asks for
everything, one's entire life, and frequently it goes against
our natural bent. It calls for sacrifices few are willing to
make, though they know they ought to make them.
The classical tradition is hard too. It also calls for
high standards, a discipline of mind and body that few are
willing to undergo.
To be truly faithful to either tradition may cost you your
life. Christ and Socrates both died as criminals, and if you
follow Christ or Socrates to the full you almost always end up
Thus both traditions tend to breed hypocrisy--a tendency
to give lip service to standards that we don't actually follow
in practice. We are in many ways a nation of hypocrites. But
having these standards has made us better than we would be
otherwise, and, shabby as our record is in some areas, it is
better (at least relatively speaking) than the history of
almost any other nation on earth.
"How can you say that?" the multiculturalists are
screaming, "Didn't we force the Japanese into prison camps in
WWII? Wasn't there constant persecution and hatred of the
Chinese? Haven't we persecuted and mistreated every ethnic
group that has come to this country, including Catholics and
Jews, the Poles and the Irish, the Puerto Ricans and the
Koreans? Haven't we slammed the door countless times on
unwelcome immigrants, and done so largely on the basis of race
Well, yes. But we are also the nation that has in the
harbor of our greatest city a statue with the words, "Send me
your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe
free." And we are also the nation that has put together a
unified, relatively harmonious, and exceedingly prosperous
society out of the most diverse mix of peoples imaginable.
True it is that we can do better, but not by rejecting the
entire cultural heritage of Western civilization. Sir Isaac
Newton, one of the most brilliant men who ever lived, once
observed, "If I have seen a little farther than other men, it
is only because I stood on the shoulders of giants,"
acknowledging that his own great achievements were possible
only because of the labors of those who had preceded him.
As history and social studies teachers, it is our role to
pass on the great intellectual, moral, and spiritual heritage
of Western civilization, to help our students to stand on the
shoulders of the great men and women who have gone before them.
If we succeed, they may indeed see farther than earlier
generations, farther than we can see ourselves. And we will
have turned our discipline into what it truly should be, the
most wonderful, most interesting, most exciting, and most
important of all subjects.
YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP, YIP
MMM, MMM, MMM, MMM, MMM....
GET A WHAT????
So you know how to build effective relationships in
the classroom. You re an expert student race course
designer. You ve got the best collection of shtick and tricks
since Laurel and Hardy. You re a master at thinking up games
and activities for keeping the classroom lively. You know the
art of turning dull facts into fascinating stories. You can
get students so involved in talking about important things that
they don t even notice the bell that s supposed to end the
class. Not only that, you can do a first-rate job figuring out
various means of measuring student progress. You can use the
latest technological innovations to full advantage in the
classroom Further, you re on top of all the new trends in
education, and you can separate the useful from the merely
fashionable. But you re still lacking one thing, and without
that one thing, all of the rest won t do you any good. That
Yep. There are plenty of people out there teaching junior
and senior high school students, leading lectures and
discussions, assigning and grading papers and all the rest...
and they don t have any more talent for it than you do. But
there is the one thing they ve got, that you haven t got...
And, unfortunately, there s not much in this bag of mine
that s going to help you. But wait! What s this? Yes!
There s still...
DR. ART S NO-GUARANTEE GUIDE
TO JOB HUNTING SUCCESS26
A much more helpful source for job hints is the Job
Search Handbook for Educators, available at most teacher
placement offices or from the American Association for Employment
in Education (820 Davis Street, Suite 222, Evanston Illinois
60201-4445, phone: 847-864-1999).
Unfortunately, getting that first teaching job can be a
rather difficult process. For more than thirty years, teaching
jobs in social studies have been fairly hard to come by. Any
big district will have dozens of applicants for any opening.
Even the smaller schools may have fifty applicants for any open
social studies job. The most recent statistics indicate that,
at the national level, the relative demand for social studies
teachers is less than the demand for any other academic
Now this doesn t mean that it s impossible to get a job
teaching history and social studies. But it does mean that
you ll probably have to apply to lots of different places and
that you ll have to make yourself marketable, i.e., something
more than a warm body with the appropriate teaching credential.
So how is it done?
The American Association for Employment in Education
handbook rates demand for social studies teachers as at 1.94 on a
five point scale. Demand for other disciplines is considerably
greater. Most special education degrees have a demand rating
higher than 4.0. Math and science fields have demand ratings
from 3.49 (general science) to 4.05 (physics). There is
apparently more demand for teachers of instrumental music (3.07),
French (3.10) and English (2.61) than for history teachers. Why
the surplus? Mostly because college students want to major in
the disciplines that produce social scientists: psychology,
sociology, political science, economics, and history are all
popular fields of study, and if one majors in one of these areas
and also wants to teach high school--well, social studies seems
to be the best bet. That s the problem with being in the most
wonderful, most interesting, and most exciting area of study:
everybody else wants to be there too.
1. Make yourself marketable.
One would think that academic excellence would be the
number one key to a good teaching job. A student who has
maintained a high GPA throughout college should have the edge
in getting a job over a poor student. However, this isn t
inevitably the case. The NEA did a survey several years ago and
found that, on average, those who were hired for teaching jobs
that particular year had lower GPA s than those who failed to
find jobs. The NEA s explanation: administrator s don t like
teachers who are smarter than they are. Maybe so, but my guess
is that the study was flawed and that, other things being
equal, good students do have a slight edge.28 Nevertheless, it
seems that other things carry more weight than academic
excellence in determining who gets teaching jobs--and, in some
cases, perhaps deservedly so.
One of the things that does seem to greatly increase
marketability is experience working with kids. If you ve
served successfully as a substitute teacher, a teacher s aide,
a tutor, a Boys Club volunteer, a Scout leader, a Sunday
school teacher, or a coach, you re more attractive as a
When evaluating your academic record, employers are
frequently most interested in the general trend of that record.
A student who starts with a 1.5 GPA but who later does A and B
work shows that they are moving in the right direction, and most
employers are quick to overlook the slow start. However, a
student who started out with a 4.0 GPA but whose grades dip to
2.5 by their final semester looks like a poor risk.
potential employee than you would be otherwise. Youth-oriented
volunteer work especially shows that you are the kind of person
who enjoys working with kids and who will make a dedicated
Perhaps as important in making yourself marketable is
versatility. Few schools can afford to hire someone who does
nothing but teach on subject. Someone certified to teach
English, biology, or mathematics as well as social studies
makes a more attractive candidate than one who can teach only
their specialty. Also important is a willingness to help out
with extra-curricular/co-curricular activities. Coaching
certification is often an advantage, but schools are also
looking for student government advisors, debate coaches, driver
training instructors, yearbook coordinators, etc. Local
administrators tell me that, right now, it s the journalism and
yearbook assignments that are hardest for them to fill, and
preparing yourself to help out in these areas may give you an
edge when looking for a job.
2. Know where to look.
Most school districts tend to emphasize primarily their
home state when advertising positions. Standard procedure is
to send position announcements to all state institutions with
teacher education programs, and for in-state jobs the first
place to check is the placement center on your home campus. In
South Dakota, most job openings are listed with the South
Dakota Teacher Placement Center (Box 1059, Pierre, SD 57501,
phone: 605-224-6978). For a very reasonable fee ($30.00 per
year), SDTPC will send you a list of all job openings listed
through their service. A few other states still have similar
services, but, for some reason, there are not as many state
placement services as there used to be.
Somewhat surprisingly, there is not yet a WWW site that
lists teaching openings across the country. You can try
finding jobs through America's Job Bank (http://www.ajb.dni.us)
or other guides (guide.infoseek.com). Positions in higher
education are listed on the Chronicle of Higher Education home
page (http://chronicle.merit.edu). However, for the time
being, such searches won t help very much. The Academic
Employment Link (http://www.academploy.com/joblist.htm) is a
promising site, and may eventually be helpful. But for right
now, the best ways of finding out-of-state jobs are: 1)
checking the out-of-state listings at your campus placement
center, 2) attending one of the larger job fairs, and 3)
finding a teacher-placement center in the state you want to
move to that will allow you to subscribe to their job-listing
service. In most cases, the state university placement centers
are good places to start.
3. Have an attractive, current resume ready to go.
Students know that, no matter how well-qualified they
might be, they are not going to get very far in the job-search
process without an effective resume. It s no surprise that
resume- writing workshops and handouts on putting together an
effective resume are quite popular.
The trouble is that no one can really tell you how to
write a good resume. Sure, there are some basic rules. Be
sure there are no misspelled words or grammatical mistakes.
Print your resume on high-quality paper. Limit the resume to
one or two pages. Include current contact numbers for your
references (both work and home phone numbers, if possible).
Don t bother with professional resume services, but do make
your resume as professional-looking as you can.
Beyond that, however, it s rather difficult to say what
should and should not go into a resume, and there are certainly
few rules for success--with good reason.
Your resume represents you. It reflects (or at least it
should reflect) your personality, your character, and your
abilities. It s best to think of your resume as something of a
self-portrait, a sort of Portrait of the Artist as a Young
Teacher. Here s a portion29 of my self-portrait :
Candidates for positions in post-secondary education are
expected to submit more extensive documentation of their
preparation than are candidates for secondary-school positions.
Even the portion of my c.v. that I include here would be much too
long were I applying for a high school level position.
ARTHUR R. MARMORSTEIN
Department of History 1115 S. Kline
Northern State University Aberdeen, SD
Aberdeen, SD 57401 (605) 229-2713
Ph.D., History, University of California, Davis, August
1988. Dissertation: Eschatological Solutions to Ethical
Evangelistic Dilemmas in the Ante-Nicene Church. Advisor:
Dr. Stylianos Spyridakis.
Master of Arts, History, California State University,
Sacramento, January 1986.
Bachelor of Arts, Drama, Stanford University, April 1974.
FIELDS OF SPECIALIZATION
Major field: Ancient History
Additional teaching fields: Medieval History, New
Assistant Professor/Associate Professor, Department of
History, Northern State University, 8/88-present.
I teach on a regular basis History 121 (Survey of World
Civilization to 1600), History 122 (Survey of World
Civilization from 1600 to the Present), and upper-division
seminars in Greek, Roman, and Early Church history.
Additional courses taught in past semesters include:
152 (U.S. History from 1877 to the Present), Social
480 (Special Methods for Secondary Social Studies
Educational Foundations 475 (Human Relations), and IDL 199
"What's In a Date? The Collision of Mythological
and History." Funded by a National Endowment for the
Humanities Summer Study Grant. Summer 1995.
PUBLICATIONS AND PRESENTATIONS
"The Impact of the Frontier on the History of the Church."
Northern Great Plains History Conference, Fall 1993.
"Shtick and Tricks: The Easy Road to Teaching Stardom."
Northern Conference on Teacher Education, August 1993.
"Classrooms Full of Stars: Theater Games Across the
Curriculum." Northern Conference on Teacher Education,
"Socrates Gets What He Deserves." Northern Conference on
Teacher Education, August 1995.
"Did Wishing Make it So? Prophecy, Propaganda, and
Political Change in Rome and Persia." Northern Great
History Conference, Fall 1995.
"Stand Up and Shake the Hand of Someone You Can't Stand:
Tolerant Bigotry in America." South Dakota Humanities
Conference, Fall 1995.
"Excellence: Is it Worth the Effort?" Hoven High School
Graduation, Spring 1996.
"Helping Students Make History: The Term Paper as a Work
Art." Northern Conference on teacher Education, Fall
On Campus Presentations:
"Love, Sex, and the Fragile Egos of Men." InterVarsity
Christian Fellowship, Fall 1993.
"How to Lose Friends and Alienate People." InterVarsity
Christian Fellowship, Spring 1994.
"Dragons, History Professors, and Other Hazards of College
Life." Lutheran Student Organization, Fall 1995.
"Cheated, Lied to, Stepped on and Broken: How Education
Fails Students." Dorm Presentation, Spring 1995.
"How Many Light Bulbs Does it Take to Change a Hypocrite?"
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Spring 1995.
"Is America Still the Land of Opportunity?" Horizons Noon
Forum, Fall 1995.
"Welfare Reform: What Can and Should Be Done?" Horizons
Noon Forum, Spring 1995.
"Educational Excellence: Is it Worth it?" Phi Eta Sigma
Banquet, Spring 1995.
"The Death of Love." Dorm Presentation, Spring 1996.
"Liar, Lunatic, or Lord?" InterVarsity Christian
Fellowship, Spring 1996.
"Why Not Inhale?" Dorm Presentation, Fall 1996.
Any prospective employer should be able to get a pretty
good picture of what kind of teacher I am from the above. They
can easily determine both my primary teaching areas and my
ability to work outside my specialty. In addition, the titles
of my various presentation convey a lot about the type of
person I am: what I value, how I relate to people, what sort of
things I find funny, etc.
Here s a resume I helped a former student put together
(names and identifying features modified):
11 NW First St.
Anywhere, SD 111111
EDUCATION AND CREDENTIALS:
Bachelor of Arts, Geography major, Russian minor, University of
South Dakota, Brookings, South Dakota, December 1985 (GPA 3.68).
Thirty semester hours toward Master of Arts in Teaching, Secondary
Social Sciences major, Northern State University (G.P.A. 3.90)
Minnesota Secondary Teaching License, Social Studies (All), June
Substitute Special Education Program Assistant, Minnesota State
Academy for the Blind, Faribault, MN. September 1991--present.
Substitute Teacher, Faribault, Northfield, Owatonna and Medford
School Districts, October 1990--present.
Resource Counselor, QSS Incorporated, Faribault, MN. Responsible
for program implementation and household management in an ICF/MR
facility for six adults. January 1991--December 1991.
High School Teacher, Aberdeen Peripheral High School, Aberdeen, SD.
Subjects taught: government, American history, world history,
geography, psychology, and economics. Developed and implemented
complete curriculum plan for geography and psychology courses
including visual aids, demonstrations, and student activities.
Compiled a personal library of resource texts for students in
history and political science. 1988--1989.
Self-employed Businessman. Ran a building maintenance and painting
business, "The House Doctor." Work included plumbing, carpentry,
roofing, electrical repairs, and assistance to property managers.
Aberdeen, SD. 1986--1990.
Security and Building Operation Monitor, Weld County School
District 6. Full-time operation of computerized security and HVAC
system for twenty-three building school district. Greeley, CO.
Mental Retardation Counselor, Midwest Children's Home. Work
included implementation of IHP's, behavior modification programs,
supervision of activities, van driving, and cooking in a eighteen-
bed ICF/MR facility. Longmont, CO. 1975--1982.
SPECIAL SKILLS AND AREAS OF INTEREST:
--25 years of piano study
--Geography and history curriculum development
Teacher, adult and high school Bible classes (1987--present).
Reader and Recorder for visually handicapped (1981--1983).
Severe Weather Spotter and Reporter (1983--present).
Russian Tutor (1980--1982).
Dr. I.M. Boring
Ministry of Truth
Aberdeen, SD 57401
Dr. I.M. Unavailable
Professor of Fuzzy Studies
Northern State University
Aberdeen, SD 57401
Rev. I.B. Leave
First Buy and Save Church
Oildale, ND 11111
Additional references and placement file available from Career
Development Center, 206 Lincoln Hall, Northern State University,
Aberdeen, SD 57401, 626-2371.
In my opinion, the above is a very impressive resume.
However, when I contacted Mr. Good-Student for permission to use
his resume in this book, he reminded me that it didn t get him a
job. Well, I told you that there were no guarantees.
4. Write an effective cover letter.
Just as no one can really tell you how to write a good
resume, no one can tell you how to write an effective cover
letter. The basic cover letter rules are pretty much the same
as those for a good resume. Be sure there are no misspelled
words or grammatical mistakes. Print your cover letter on high-
quality paper. Limit the cover letter to one page.
Beyond that, your pretty much on your own.
The cover letter, like the resume, is something of a self-
portrait. However, what you want to convey in the cover letter
is not your overall teaching ability but why you are particularly
good candidate for the particular position offered. How do you
do this? Well, do your homework. Get as much information as you
can on what the position you re applying for entails. Find out
what s special about that particular school. Learn something
about the surrounding community. As you do this, you ll find
certain things about the job, the school, and the community that
you really like30. These are the things to emphasize in a cover
Suppose, for instance, a school is searching for an 8th
grade U.S. history. The search committee will typically give
extra attention to applicants whose cover letters mention their
previous experiences with junior high age students and explain
If you don t, your probably shouldn t waste your time
applying for that particular job.
why they would enjoy working with eighth graders. Appropriate
cover letters might include statements like, As a coach and
workshop leader, I ve worked extensively with young teenagers,
and I ve loved every minute of it. I love their energy, their
creativity, and their growing sense of independence. Another
effective cover letter might say something like, I know the
difference a caring teacher can make, and I d love the chance to
help students through the difficult early teenage years.
Much of the time, your search committee is going to be
concerned with how well you can overcome the stereotype of social
studies as a boring subject. Can you make social studies
interesting? Can you make social studies relevant? The
suggestion that you can in a cover letter is one thing that my
secure you a bit of extra attention.
In some ways, your cover letter conveys even more of your
personality than your resume does. Should you be careful not to
reveal too much about yourself? Not at all. You may be working
with the people who hire you for the next thirty years, and if
your personality is a bad match for theirs, you probably don t
want that position anyway.31
5. Choose your references carefully.
One of the frustrating things about being on a search
It s always intrigued me that I have better luck getting
interviews when my wife writes the cover letters for me. Any
committee these days is that letters of reference are so
unreliable. Almost no-one is willing to give you a full picture
of the candidate. Writers emphasize the candidates strengths,
but not their weaknesses. Even worse, they often talk about non-
existent strengths. We ve brought candidates to campus on the
basis of recommendations that described them as dynamic, and
energetic, only to find that they should have been described as
lifeless, and dull.
Just about every secondary school administrator I talk to
has been burned in the same way. As a result, they don t pay as
much attention as they might to references from your college
professors. They know that the professors have a vested interest
in seeing their graduates get teaching positions, and that they
will consequently write glowing recommendations for students who
don t deserve them.32
How do you get references that count? Well, do ask one or
two of your professors to write references for you. But it s
probably more valuable to have letters from: 1) the cooperating
teacher with whom you worked during your student teaching
experience, and 2) former employers (provided, of course, you
were a reliable employee). You might also find letters of
reference from pastors or community leaders helpful.
And, of course, then we wonder why those we regard as our
best students are finding it difficult to compete in the job
If you include all of the above, you ll end up over the
three-letter limit that most students think applies to their
placement files. But there s no magic to having exactly three
letters in your file, and having four or five letters may work
out better--as long as the letters are recent.
6. Prepare a professional-looking teaching portfolio.
One way of setting yourself apart from the other applicants
for a position is to prepare a teaching portfolio. A good
portfolio can demonstrate both your creativity and your ability
to organize. It can clarify your teaching philosophy and your
teaching style. Most important, it can show how, maybe better
than any other way, how you relate to students.
There are no hard and fast rules for what should and should
not be in a teaching portfolio. About the only real requirement
for a portfolio is that it be well organized and interesting.
You should probably start with a table of contents. You should
probably include a clear statement of your teaching philosophy, a
sample lesson plan, and a copy of your resume. You might also
include copies of your reference letters and your college
transcript. If I were the one examining your portfolio, I d be
looking especially for evidence of long-term planning: course
syllabi, unit plans, semester plans, etc. There are plenty of
other things you might include. Photos of one of your classes
in action, (i.e., putting together home-made relief maps,
exploring an important issue with theater game, or holding a mock
convention) can be particularly effective. If you re planning to
help with extracurricular activities, include documentation of
past experiences. If you re planning on coaching, include
diagrams of your favorite plays, or your plan for a workout
season. If you re planning on helping direct plays, include a
production schedule. Ever put together a handbook for any youth
activity? Include it in your portfolio.
Preparing an effective portfolio can be a lot of work, but
you ll find that the time is well spent. Even if your potential
employers never look at your portfolio (and some won t), you ll
find that process of preparing the portfolio will help you
clarify in your own mind why you want to teach. It will help you
recognize your own strengths as a teacher. It will help bring to
mind your most important experiences working with kids. These
are exactly the kind of things you need to be prepared to talk
about when you walk into a job interview.
In addition, the portfolio has some other advantages.
Dropping by a portfolio is a good excuse for making an extra
face-to-face contact prior to the interview.33 The portfolio can
also be useful during the interview itself. If you re asked how
It s probably best to drop your portfolio a day or two
before your interview. Search committees often don t have much
time to examine the material in it during the interview itself.
However, it may also be effective to simply leave the portfolio
with the search committee at the end of an interview.
you would go about making your social studies class interesting,
it s great to have in your portfolio a few photos of students
having working on a history project or a sample historical
newspaper produced by one of your classes.
7. Be yourself at the job interview.
If you get to the interview stage, it s likely enough that
the search committee has already decided that you re qualified
for the job. Your academic record is good enough, your
certification is appropriate, and you ve enough experience
working with kids. They may have a doubt or two about a couple
of things (Why is there a two year gap on your resume? Why did
you get a only a C in World Civilization II?), but clarifying
this type of thing isn t the real purpose of the interview. Most
often, the main thing the search committee is trying to figure
out is how well you will fit in. Will you be an amiable
colleague? Will you be able to relate well to the community?
Will you be able to supply some of what they sense is missing in
their school? Above all, will you be able to relate well to the
kind of students they have at that particular school?
No matter how desperate you are for a job, the best policy
here is honesty. Be yourself.
8. Follow up each step of the job-search process appropriately.
Professors don t always write the recommendations they ve
promised. Job applications sometimes get misplaced or misfiled.
Murphy s law applies to job searches every bit as much as to the
rest of life. It s worth a bit of extra time to make sure you
get a chance to correct job-search problems before it s too late.
It s important to check with your placement office to make
sure that all the recommendation letters you asked for are on
file. If not, go back to the recommenders and ask if they
wouldn t mind sending another copy of the recommendation to the
center. This will usually get things rolling, but sometimes
you ll have to find an alternative reference.
It s also worth checking with any potential employer to make
sure your application materials are complete. A call right
before the closing date can be particularly effective. It helps
the search committee know that you are a serious candidate, and
it may make your application stand out just a bit more.
Another important part of follow-up is the writing of thank
you notes. I ve appreciated the thank-you notes I ve received
from candidates we ve interviewed even when I knew they were just
a job-search formality. I ve appreciated even more the thank-
you s I get from students who have just been hired for their
first teaching job.
And that reminds me of some thank-you s long overdue on my